Pseudo-Blast from the Past
This twelfth album from the famously eclectic Georgian band of Montreal begins, appropriately, in medias res: twangy guitars charge into an upbeat melody on the straightforward, rocking opener “Fugitive Air.” Lousy with Sylvianbriar swings the band’s lengthy catalogue back around to its roots and back in time, eschewing the glitzy glam-pop of False Priest and Skeletal Lamping for a more organic, guitar-driven and approachable sound without losing any of the band’s distinctive lyrical panache.
In the mid-2000s, Kevin Barnes took of Montreal on an increasingly manic, marvelous, maddening journey into the depths of the psyche and the limits of poppy electronica, peaking with 2007’s Hissing Fauna. But it just became weirder and weirder, with swirling layers of vocals and synths and precocious, dense lyrics. Lousy with Sylvianbriar departs abruptly from this trajectory, going back towards ’60s and ’70s-influenced pop, with more of the pseudo-country that appeared on 2012’s Paralytic Stalks.
“Obsidian Currents” has a slightly psychedelic, languid, shuffling beat and some sweeping, country-esque steel guitar that wouldn’t sound terribly out of place on a Stones record, and “Belle Glade Missionaries” features a rousing, rolling guitar riff that rumbles under Barnes’s literary, verbose psychoanalyzing (“I have a sense you want to be the female Henry Miller / cynically referring to your lovers as your princes and exploiting other peoples’ madness”). Biting lyrics about psychological trouble and familial discord also appear on “Colossus” and the jaunty “Triumph of Disintegration,” where staccato, trebly riffs cede to a melodic chorus driven by solid guitars. Likewise, “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now” and the energetic, almost psychobilly “Hegira Émigré” are straightforward, guitar rock songs drawing from influences like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Stones and The Beatles.
“Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” is one of the tracks that most strikingly demonstrates how Lousy with Sylvianbriar moves away from of Montreal’s last few albums. It begins with a rich, warm acoustic guitar playing arpeggiated chords, complemented by soft piano and layers of interweaving acoustic melodies. This isn’t something you’d expect from the band, after the exuberant electronica of songs like “Girl Named Hello” and “Godly Intersex,” but tracks like this and the gentle, countryfied “Amphibian Days” show that Barnes still knows how to evolve and write a good song without an arsenal of electronics (and that he probably hasn’t yet fallen off the deep end).