If the Polyvinyl bio is to be trusted, Kevin Barnes shaped of Montreal’s January 2020 release UR FUN with the concert stage and live performance in mind. We all know how that went, 2020 the year of the pandemic shutdown, isolation, and closures. When the going gets tough, the artistic among us create “free flowing collages” or collaborate with their own subconscious. At least that’s the way Barnes described the deconstructive musical and lyrical hodge-podge creations that make up the 7 tracks of the band’s 18th full-length collection. Of the title Barnes says, “Freewave is my term for wild and intractable artistic expression. Lucifer is the angel of enlightenment and elucidation.” And the three curses, “something we say when things are going really well, or really badly.”
Of the titles here, the most helpful is track 5, “Modern Art Bewilders.” Assuming, this is modern art, after multiple listens, lyric sheet in hand, the overall impact here is utter bewilderment. The first audible words of “Marijuana’s a Working Woman,” the albums opening track turns out to be pretty instructive: “In the sensory overload chamber.” The music flows in one direction only to divert off in another, but quickly changes gears and directions again, mixing rhythms, keyboard textures, and tones with little that suggests an overall compositional focus or purpose. The melodies seem to serve a singular lyric, or a flow of random words and phrases, strung together with little sense or identifiable theme. There’s a joke here (“When people ask me my gender I tell them brunette”), then an odd thought like “Maybe we should fight it always seems to make everything better” gets repeated as if it’s some kind of chorus, but is it really.
“Blab Sabbath Lathe of the Maiden” has a perky, hip-hop infused rhythm, and at one point channels Prince, singing “I was creaming when I wrote this, so forgive me if I make a mess.” Elsewhere you hear Barnes’ take on Bowie, lots of Rundgren-esque synth pop transitions, but the overall feel is completely self-interested, likely only appealing to the most smitten by the untethered nature of everything here, but for casual listeners the impact is likely to be confusion and distraction. The closing track “Hmmm” opens with fingerpicked guitar, before a hip-hop beat kicks off, with a lyric that deals with the issue of “grief” and “loss” in a cohesive, poetic, and understandable way, suggesting what would likely have been possible elsewhere here.
“Ofrienda-flanger-ego a gogo” / “Blab Sabbath Lathe of Maiden” / “Hmmm”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
David Bowie / The Flaming Lips / Foxygen
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