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One word that jumps to mind when listening to of Montreal’s Paralytic Stalks is “chaotic.”
The album spins through dizzying pop numbers that range from the confessional (“Spiteful Intervention”) to the dancey (“Dour Percentage”). Lyrically, we see hints of Barnes’ romantic turmoil, like in “Spiteful Intervention”. However, while it is evident that Barnes is going through somekind of crisis, his wordplay is too complex to discern any kind of relatable message.
As the second half of the album creeps in, what little hints there were of pop hooks and sing-a-longs disappear almost completely. After the pleasant acoustic humming’s of “Malefic Dowery,” a cycle of four 7-plus minute songs sets in and the album begins to bleed out into insanity. Although some moments stand out as interesting developments, the songwriting is much too dense to derive any kind of playfulness from the colorful pastiches.
The last two songs of the album are where Barnes truly begins to jump the shark. The almost 8-minute “Excorcismic Breeding Knife” throws all song-form out the door in favor of a Revolution 9-style sound.
This is followed by the extended “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission,” which begins with thumping dance beats before fading to ambient gibberish. Then, after almost 10 minutes of this nonsense, the coda emerges as a lovely 2-chord piano ballad, with Barnes crooning some of the most coherent lyrics of the album: “Til this afternoon I was in exile/Now that word is obsolete/There are no nations, no concept of ego/Our illumination is complete.”
This resolution suggests that Barnes is still capable of writing truly captivating melodies and eloquent lyrics, but was it really worth the effort?
Barnes’ ambitions for producing works of art have only grown larger over the years, but perhaps Paralytic Stalks is where he must draw the line. While his sound production has come leaps and bounds from the laptop cut-and-paste process of Skeletal Lamping, Paralytic Stalks fails to connect on an emotional level.
As a stepping stone in the ever-changing sound of Barnes’ project, it works marvelously. But the songwriting isn’t gripping enough to interest the average listener. Perhaps next time Barnes will attempt to break from his shell and invite us along on the surreal rollercoaster inside his head.
Kevin Barnes has some demons. Like many an artist before him, Barnes has used his albums as a therapeutic lens to reflect his insecurities and desires. The past three of Montreal records have followed a linear descent into the dark of Barnes’ mind. Now with Paralytic Stalks, it appears the psych-funk daydream is over. The band is ready to write songs that unquestionably fall into the “indie rock” category. Does it work?
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.Goldner@colorado.edu.