Kevin Barnes might not be on a par with Neil Young or David Bowie, but he’s no slouch in the reinvention department. Over the past decade and a half, Barnes and of Montreal, his rotating cast of musical provocateurs, have evolved from the conceptually edgy Baroque Pop brilliance of their early work with the Elephant 6 collective to a song structure more directly influenced by The Beatles and The Kinks to their current Funktronica flavored direction. On stage, of Montreal is a swirling mass of musical humanity, translating Kevin Barnes’ singular visions into a spectacular live evocation, an impressive feat given that every of Montreal album to date has been concocted by Barnes alone on his laptop at home.
Until now, that is; False Priest stands as the first of Montreal album to benefit from the studio environment as well as outside perspective. Barnes wrote and recorded the songs for the album on his own, then took them to L.A. to flesh them out with super Pop producer Jon Brion, who had expressed an interest in working with Barnes, and provided of Montreal with their first real sonic depth (particularly in the lower ranges).
False Priest is an amazing mix of Barnes’ dual interests in David Bowie’s Glam Pop phase and his newer obsession with Funk and R&B in the Sly & the Family Stone/Parliament/Funkadelic/Marvin Gaye vein which, when pushed through Barnes’ creative filter, emerges with a Funk/Glam swagger that suggests Prince with Bowie as musical director, typified by the album’s opener, the falsetto-fueled “I Feel Ya’ Strutter” and the R&B travelogue of love gone wrong in “Our Riotous Defects.” False Priest also benefits from Barnes’ other influences, Atlanta’s Wondaland Arts Society, where he met Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles (sister of Beyonce) and Monae collaborator Chuck Lightning, who introduced Barnes to the work of late science fiction legend Philip K. Dick. To that end, Monae and Knowles both provide vocals to False Priest, and the sci-fi-overlay shows up in “Enemy Gene,” arguably the only Indie Rock song in history to discuss particle wave physics.
Elsewhere, “Godly Intersex” and “Casualty of You” sound like Hunky Dory-era David Bowie on a Bee Gees/Saturday Night Fever binge and “Coquet Coquette” offers up a mash-up of Marc Bolan and Jeff Lynne, while “Like a Tourist” presents an imagined collaboration between Prince and 10CC and “Famine Affair” shivers and shakes with the intensity of Robert Smith contracting a virulent case of dance fever.
In the end, no matter how much Funk and Soul is absorbed by Kevin Barnes, it still comes out with his particular Pop twist. You won’t ever hear Kanye West address the fetishizing of archetypes. Of course, there’s no telling where Barnes will take of Montreal next but, for now at least, there’s no parking on False Priest’s science fiction dance floor.
[For more about of Montreal, read my interview with Barnes before the band played the Madison Theater in September.]