Album of the Week: of Montreal’s Paralytic Stalks: Schizophrenic Genius

of Montreal has the honor of being the only band in my collection that has forced me to use a dictionary, an encyclopedia, and a book of feminist critical theory to interpret the first few lines of a song. The excessive and challenging qualities of the band’s lyrics make them unique, and their most recent album Paralytic Stalks is a very special addition to their very special oeuvre.

While perhaps not as easily accessible as previous works such as Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007), Skeletal Lamping (2008), and False Priest (2010), Paralytic Stalks maintains a certain listenability and honesty to sound and aural cadence that of Montreal will always have. In addition, its emotional rawness is matched only by its pure evisceration of classic audio narrative.

While previous albums may have had a more logical pop sensibility, Paralytic Stalks runs according to chaotic sensation and a sense of wild, unrefined passion. The anger and pain that registers in the lyrics only confirm what can be heard in the instrumentation. That said, it’s an immensely powerful album but perhaps difficult to grasp upon the first (or even the fifth) listen.

Undoubtedly, Kevin Barnes is one of the most commanding and intoxicating performers recording today. He is blessed with creativity similar to Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart and oozes a sexuality that recalls Grace Jones and David Bowie. Yet none of these comparisons really grasp the way a song like the hit “Wintered Debts,” which so generously mixes a slight country guitar and an ethereal piano, could lead into a piece like “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” which consists of a variety of woodwinds and classical instruments played in the most unclassical way of instrumentation. The schizophrenia of this song is reminiscent of the more experimental bits of The Beatles (1968), only much darker.

Upon the release of the album on February 7, Barnes posted to Facebook:

“now that Paralytic Stalks is officially out there in the world i thought it might be helpful to offer a little personal info about it. it came from a place of great pain and turmoil. if you are a well adjusted/happy person that requires instant gratification and simplicity in the music you listen to, you should not expect to really enjoy this album. it is an album for people who know the sting of alienation, psychosis, terror, anguish… it’s not a feel good album, admittedly, it’s a fucked up journey into a troubled mind. it is a very raw and unrefined piece of art. I just hope it helps people, like myself, feel less alone in their instability.”

At first, this declaration may seem like a turn-off in its hard-nosed approach. It may even seem like it may just be “too much.” But, much like Paralytic Stalks, the closer you study Kevin Barnes’ short letter, the richer it becomes. The cacophony that of Montreal expresses within the bars of this album, and the pain that Barnes describes in the above statement mirror each other. But it’s the peaceful turns in the songs that stream into one another, at times, that seem to lend some balance. This is a truly fascinating and great album that only gets better with each play.

Paralytic Stalks may never be an album that you play at parties, nor will it ever be something that you can sing or dance to. But sometimes, as Barnes states above, it’s more important to release a piece of art about self-exploration and hope that can also help others on their journey. There’s plenty of time for dancing later.

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