of Montreal’s last album, Skeletal Lamping, was my favorite record of 2008. It was Kevin Barnes’ most ambitious slab to date, taking his already wacky brand of electro-pop-funk-whatever to new levels of crazy. Playing simultaneously like a random mash-up of aborted ideas and/or some sort of manic symphony, it ignored traditional structures and choruses (for the most part), toyed with tempos and styles without worrying much for transitions, and got freakier than his already sexually-driven lyrics had ever dared. In this humble reviewer’s opinion it was a masterpiece, but I can certainly understand how it’s not for everybody.
With False Priest, Kevin Barnes returns to familiar song forms and individual tracks of pop goodness, but is this his attempt at pop stardom? Someone needs to take down that Lady Gaga dude, quick. Barnes is getting serious here, finally taking the proceedings out of his home and to a well-known studio and handing over the reigns to a producer other than himself. Jon Brion, known for work with Kanye West and Fiona Apple among others, pumps ups Barnes’ jams and makes them even more danceable and bumpin'.
With the doors now open to outsiders, he goes nuts with some big name guests stopping by. “Sex Karma” features Beyoncé’s little sister Solange Knowles, who also happens to have some sexy pipes (among other things). "Close your eyes and count to three / I’ll kiss you where I shouldn't be / ‘Cause you look like a playground to me, player," Barnes and Knowles sing, bouncing lines off each other, in another oM cut to get nasty to. But my favorite track is “Enemy Gene” featuring Janelle Monáe, with its dream-sequence synths in the chorus and smooth melody Monáe plays a big part in. She also appears in the outro of “Our Riotous Defects,” with its hilarious spoken-word verses about how he got a bowflex for this "crazy girl" who, after an argument, killed his beta fish (she "just threw it out the window"). "Like Ike and Tina but in reverse / ‘Cause you’re so crazy girl."
But Barnes is still the ringmaster of this circus, and False Priest is one funky sing-along after another. Barnes croons in an odd tone on the ridiculously catchy chorus of “Like a Tourist,” another dance-floor highlight. Single “Coquet Coquette” takes a more rock-flavored approach with real drums and thick guitars layered with the standard synths. As a synth enthusiast I would like to point out “Hydra Fancies,” which after a false ending reprises the verse melody on fat squiggly sounds even the Moog Cookbook would be proud of. Then there’s “Godly Intersex” and its sweet, '80s sparkly synths in its intro.
The album gets a tad darker and less poppy near its end with the all-analogue orchestration of piano ballad “Casualty of You” and the minor-key groove of “Around the Way,” featuring dissonant strings and his wife speaking Norwegian. Closer “You Do Mutilate” ends the album with a spoken-word section finding Barnes finally playing up to the album’s title on what isn't really an anti-religion album: "When will certain people realize / That afterlife is nothing to live for / Nothing to die for / Nothing to fight for."
It feels good to get back to pure pop with False Priest; I don’t know if even I could handle another mind-fuck like Skeletal Lamping right away. It’s the best sounding of Montreal record in many ways, and although it isn't the artistic achievement the previous record was, it’s some sort of achievement in its own level of ear-worm melodies. Wouldn't it be great if this record broke of Montreal into the mainstream’s consciousness? I’m not counting on it, but that would be sweet. Anyway, Kevin Barnes can out-freak Lady Gaga any day.