Album Review: of Montreal – thecontrollersphere

[Polyvinyl; 2011]

Spare a thought for Pitchfork writer Rob Mitchum who became the victim of Kevin Barnes’ dissatisfaction for the tepid reception of his last album. In a single blog post Barnes dissected Mitchum’s review of False Priest, getting at him for everything from being unspecific about the language he used to not using a lower case “o” when typing the band’s name. As a whole it’s a pretty scathing thing to read and part of me is kind of glad he didn’t choose my review as an example. But it’s also kind of depressing. The majority of Barnes’ post boils down to him calling Mitchum names like a schoolchild and forgetting that even though Mitchum might not be a sex-loving free spirit like Barnes (as far as I’m aware), he’s still entitled to his opinion.

In a nutshell Barnes’ opinion boils down to a tweet he made when he found out that the Pitchfork review of False Priest wasn’t set to be favourable: “like Morris Day says ‘this dance ain’t 4everybody,only the sexy people’… But by ‘sexy’ I mean funky and free.” And that’s true; not everyone “gets” Barnes’ wild fanatical ideas and even though he can come on strong, the listener can just shrug their shoulders and just enjoy the music. But the problem is that even the music seemed to be suffering at times. Sure, Barnes can unleash a multitude of riffs in the space of a minute or so but that’s part of where the problem lies: for all these enjoyable, catchy and memorable moments you’d get an increasing number of lacklustre and second rate ones.

And with that idea in mind, new EP thecontrollersphere isn’t too enticing a prospect. Five leftover tracks from an album that was already lacking in hugely memorable content to begin with? I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to pass, but at the same time I wouldn’t blame you for listening purely because of past evidence from the band, namely the Icons, Abstract Thee EP which followed hot on the tail of the band’s modern masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

But instead of a saving grace thecontrollersphere is nothing more than what it says on the tin. The five tracks here offer an admirable range of style in the space of twenty-three minutes but they’re nothing more than off-cuts songs sometime so full of content they make any memorable aspect indefinable. To get the best out of these tracks it seems best to take them individually but some of them lack a “best” to begin with. “Flunkt Sass vs the Root Plume” begins on the trail of being an acoustic ballad but within the space of a few seconds it’s washed over with a bed of echo and effects that the core of the song (and pretty much everything else) is lost. Barnes might well put in a damn emotional performance but the effects on his voice ruin the gut punch of what could have been some miniature version of “No Conclusion.”

And this problem of wanting to pack too much into these songs carries on in the songs that follow. It begins to feel like the whole EP is an attempt to use up every little thing written and recorded during the False Priest period. “Slave Translator” begins with one of those almost signature of Montreal spiky/funky guitar riffs and seems promising despite an iffy vocal melody but before the two minute mark is hit, it’s already changed itself about three times. The changes are hardly surprising and I’m not questioning Barnes’ ADD-style music but it seems to be more and more habitual for Barnes to throw away potential than to get those changes sounding good. Consider EP centrepiece “Holiday Call” which lyrically seems to be the only thing related to the False Priest title. The bouncy first section is all fine and well but over the space of eight minutes it morphs into a whole host of different creatures (like the way all those things seems to be flooding out from the tiger’s face on the EP artwork). The transitions actually run quite smoothly for the first three minutes or so, but somehow it ends up in a dizzying swelling string section (admittedly the best string section ever put into an of Montreal song as far as I‘m aware) before releasing itself on ditty little instrumental piano piece. It’s mainly because of that impressionable string section that I want to say “Holiday Call” is the best thing on the EP but as said, the term “best” doesn’t hold much water.

As for the other two songs – “Black Lion Massacre” and “L’age D’or” – we get one interesting cut and one okay-but-forgettable of Montreal song. “Black Lion Massacre” is probably the thing that’ll draw your attention and probably get you raising an eyebrow with it furious thrashing stabs of guitar. Even if you thought “Nonpareil of Favor” on Skeletal Lamping was heavy then you’ll have to concede that “Massacre” is step up and a whole lot darker, despite the twinkling little melodies beneath the dark cloud. As said, it’s an interesting cut and comes off something that I could actually imagine the whole band enjoyably playing together in the same room, but soon enough the novelty of the huge sound wears off and if you’re anything like me you’ll skip the track altogether.”L’age D’or” doesn’t open up much new territory, but it’s probably the most “normal” thing here, with its onslaught of sexually-active lyrical content, but it’s still a lesser track to even the mediocre stuff on False Priest.

So really there’s not a great deal to take from the EP. Sure, there will be fans of False Priest who will be interested (and even like) the other stuff created during the album’s construction. As said, the songs benefit from being taken out of context and as much as that leads to just picking and choosing the moments worth going back for, the process of listening to the EP as a whole can almost be disheartening as much as it is unrewarding. But the real sadness is that the process of dissecting Barnes’ own albums for their best bits seems to be becoming an unfortunately common habit.