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Kevin Barnes and Co. get caught in the tailwinds of Diplo's private jet on EDM-embracing new album
It’s already a foregone conclusion that 2016 will be looked upon as a complete disaster, with or without a shark-jumping Of Montreal album. Still, it wasn’t all that long ago that Kevin Barnes seemed to be the one who was showing us a way to dance and laugh and be brave in the face of late-capitalist dystopia. So the amount of fatigue and cynicism baked into 14th album Innocence Reaches is not just a bummer it’s verging on ominous.
Throughout the Athens, Georgia, band’s long history, including last year’s underrated Aureate Gloom, Barnes has sounded like he’s at the centre of his own party, so it’s strange for him to suddenly sound like he’s late to someone else’s. Assorted conventional, uninspired EDM manoeuvres – chopped and pitched vocal samples, trap beats, sidechain compression – do a distressing amount of heavy lifting throughout the album. It’s true that Of Montreal have followed a trajectory toward dance- and pop-oriented music their whole career, but they always seemed firmly in control of their own idiosyncratic aeroplane-over-the-sea. Now they appear to be caught in the tailwinds of Diplo’s private jet.
Thematically, the album is similarly dogged by cynicism and fatigue. Lead single It’s Different For Girls is a slinky-groove inventory of boy/girl binaries that feels regressive, considering Barnes has expressed a nominally gender-fluid perspective in the past. Elsewhere, he trades his usual erudite whimsicality for alarmingly on-the-nose proclamations about a failed relationship. It’s the kind of imaginary conversation a person has when they’re longing for catharsis and don’t quite have it yet – but in this case also unfortunately trying to make a record at the same time.
It’s difficult to hear Of Montreal’s bacchanalian glee morph into brooding nihilism, and worse still to feel like Barnes is doubling down on that vibe rather than trying to get clear of it. Once you notice that it’s “cocaine!” and not “okay!” that Barnes hiss-whispers right before the blistering guitar solo in Les Chants De Maldoror, you wonder if the album was an opportunity for self-reflection that somehow curdled into unbridled narcissism.
Top track: Les Chants De Maldoror