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How do you approach an album as tantalizingly complex as ParalyticStalks?
You could begin from a lyrical perspective and appraise the occasion itprovides for an unobstructed view directly into the psyche of Kevin Barnes, ofMontreal's principal songwriter.
But be prepared -- one listen to "I spend my waking hours hauntingmy own life / I made the one I love start crying tonight / And it feltgood" ("Spiteful Intervention") immediately reveals this is notBarnes filtered through the lens of an adopted persona or invented alter ego.
Rather, these are confessions of an infinitely more personal nature thananything he's written since 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Amidst dark ruminations on human existence, revenge, self-hatred, andhis relationship with wife Nina, one encounters an emotionally raw Barnesstruggling to contain his savage thoughts: "So much violence in my head /How are we still alive?" ("Authentic Pyrrhic Remission").
And though it's easy to become totally immersed within the captivatingpower of these revelations song after song, focusing only on the lyrics wouldprevent you from fully comprehending the true depth of Barnes's work.
Because in a different, yet equally enthralling manner, ParalyticStalks's musical dimension proves itself similarly worthy of preoccupation.
For on a sonic level, the album -- recorded at Barnes's home studio inAthens, GA and mixed at Chase Park Transduction with the assistance of engineerDrew Vandenberg (Deerhunter, Toro y Moi) -- is a stimulatingarray of densely packed ideas presented with stunning agility.
Never before has an of Montreal record moved so fluidly from onesong to the next -- each track feeding off the last in what seems a singularalbum-long movement that never allows you to rip your ears away.
After the addition of classically trained violinist Kishi Bashito of Montreal's touring line-up, Barnes embraced the idea of workingwith session musicians (many of whom were Kishi Bashi's friends) for the firsttime in his career.
During this period, Barnes forged a special connection with ZacharyCowell, a session musician who subsequently arranged all of the album's brassand woodwind parts (and is now the band's newest member).
The experience also emboldened Barnes to venture into previouslyunexplored territory with his songwriting. As a result, Paralytic Stalks attimes resembles modern classical with its intricate compositions, while atothers echoes of neo-prog, pseudo-country, and 60s pop can be heard.
Examples of these new elements abound throughout the record, notably on"Wintered Debts," which witnesses its hushed vocal and acousticguitar intro giving way to a country shuffle replete with pedal steel guitar,as well as the flute-driven, ELO-inspired single "DourPercentage."
And yet, above all, Paralytic Stalks remains absolutely defiantof any labels that attempt to completely pin down the type of music Barnescreates.
As such, ultimately it doesn't matter what angle you choose as yourentry point. Because the album's true value is that it even forces you toquestion how to approach it at all.
Conceivedon the fringe of a contemporary pop music landscape that seldom encourageslisteners to dig beyond the surface level to receive satisfaction, ParalyticStalks is the rare album with the audacity to DEMAND such a response.