Lousy with Sylvianbriar... Not lousy
Review: of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar
Published on October 7th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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Good news for old school of Montreal fans: Lousy with Sylvianbriar is Kevin Barnes’s most organic effort in many a year, not that it sounds much at all like The Gay Parade or The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy.
In terms of general mood, it probably has more in common with last year’s Paralytic Stalks; it’s not quite as disturbed and anguished, although you can glean unrest from its shared trait of cramming words into lines that can barely accommodate them.
“Amputated from humanity on some lifelong intellectual retreat”…“From your first psychotic episode to your chugging your schizophrenia / It’s your dysphoric mania that makes you so likable“…”Happy Yellow Bumblebee” it ain’t.
Though largely a mid-tempo ‘affair’ – check us out, clutching journalistic cliché to our idle bosom – Lousy with Sylvianbriar is still illuminated by Barnes’s quirky, tangential and constantly surprising songwriting. He really is a master of it.
Fans of Satanic Panic in the Attic alienated by of Montreal’s mania-laden recent output will find joy in the relative lightness of touch, not that Lousy with Sylvianbriar is in the least bit flimsy or inconsequential.
“Fugitive Air” gets things off to a cracking start, making all kinds of distinctly Barnes-ian twists and turns on its way to being the most energetic song of the set, and ending classically on a major 7th.
Coming over just a little bit like a White Album-era John Lennon number, “Obsidian Currents” unwittingly (or wittingly?) reflects the contrarian streak suggested by Barnes’s unwillingness to resort to simple crowd-pleasing with “Burning everyone who ever tried to get close to you”.
Any long-term of Montreal fans who’ve struggled to get to grips with their post-Satanic Panic output might nod sagely along with that line…but they’ll be pleased to know that there is much for them here.
(Incidentally, we think the last few albums have been fabulous.)
There’s also a touch of mid-to-late-’60s Beatles about the blues-riff-flaunting “Belle Glade Missionaries”, while there are hints of Beach Boys to the overlapping backing vocals and thick layers of harmonies over the gorgeously fingerpicked “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit”.
“Colossus” ain’t exactly a barrel of laughs – it kicks off with “Your mother hung herself in the National Theatre when she was four months pregnant with your sister who would have been 13 years old today / Does that make you feel any less alone in the world?” but it’s a sweetened kind of brooding.
Blessed with another arresting opening line, in this case “The last ten days have been a motherfucker”, “Triumph of Disintegration” could almost have featured on Blur’s eponymous 1997 album. Alternatively, it’s like a glammier/Bowier version of early Pavement. Basically, it’s fantastic.
Stephen Malkmus in laid-back mode is conjured by “Amphibian Days”, “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now” breaks out into scuzzy riffing amidst its spiky elegance, and the Rebecca Cash-sung “Raindrop in My Skull” applies more luscious harmonies to more beguiling fingerpicking.
Finally, “Imbecile Rages” – distinguished by Barnes’s seething “I guess you feel like you’ve got this lifetime pass and you can be a dick and it doesn’t even matter” – puts us in mind of The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround LP, maybe because it just sounds a bit like one of the tracks off it. No biggie.
On Lousy with Sylvianbriar, it seems as if Kevin Barnes has broken all the ground he wanted to break and is settling for just being a really great songwriter. Because he is, it works.
Lousy with Sylvianbriar is out now on Polyvinyl.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!