of Montreal are a psychedelic, artsy rock meets indie pop group that mix bouncy production that’s often erratic and quirky, with discotheque inspired melodies. The left-field group is lead by Kevin Barnes and he’s been pumping out mad hatter tunes since the 90s. The band exudes eccentricity and plays on their sonic tendencies, adding more and more spoonsful of strange as time goes on.
Despite finding critical acclaim and mild success throughout their career, of Montreal have slowly ground to a creative halt. Many fans have been unenthused with the last few records and their last album, Innocence Reaches was just as divisive.
Now, in 2018, they’ve released an EP (the length of an album) that has reignited their vibrant, rainbow fires. White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood is both a mouthful to say and a colourful experience. In all the years I’ve been listening to music, I’ve never quite encountered a band that conveys the Alice in Wonderland aesthetic. However White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood is exactly that; it’s a wild, frightening, and hyperactive trip into Wonderland.
With this EP, of Montreal have built on the EDM and synth pop sound of their last record, bringing along the darker and reflective lyricism. Whereas Innocence Reaches is a turbulent blueprint, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood is a fully realised and fine-tuned journey. The impact of the EP is immediate and through its runtime, it carries an emotional core and vulnerability that’s dressed up in a shimmering glitz and glam.
“Soft Music/Juno Portraits of the Jovian Sky” offers a suave, robotic disco infused introduction that lulls you into a false sense of security. The funky and clunking synths rub against the discordant rhythms, whilst Barnes delivers harsh truths that aren’t immediately noticeable beneath the Terminator meets Donna Summer sound. This style continues with one of the EP’s strongest and most defining tracks, “Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia”.
This track is an acid and ecstasy fuelled party packaged into seven minutes. It begins with an ominous guitar rhythm that’s juxtaposed by glossy sounding vocals. As the instrumental begins to evolve and change pace, Barnes explodes into a powerful and affirmative delivery. This leads into the chorus, which is an eighties influenced romp that’s backboned by a rubber band synth that springs back and forth. To be frank, it’s the most perfect, batshit concoction.
However, the second half goes to a far darker place. The pills and potions instrumental descends into a heavy and hazy beat. Its thick and creeping sound is pushed by sinister keys and ghostly hums, eventually birthing vocals that are desensitised and metallic. It ends in a truly gut-wrenching manner.
The slinky atmosphere continues throughout the EP. “Writing the Circles/Orgone Tropics” is a dream pop abyss that features poignant lyricism. Barnes’ knack for vulnerability is at the heart of the song.
It begins with “Did it happen the way we wanted / Maybe not / Maybe I love you like I love myself / Not a lot“, and continues with a heart breaking chorus full of despair; featuring lines such as “Don’t complain about your personal hell / You should be grateful you don’t have to share one / Naturally, it’s starting to burn though / Writing the circles of your inferno“.
Once the song ends, you’re left with a lump in your throat. You’re given little time to recover as “Plateau Phase/No Careerism No Corruption” promptly bursts into the room. Instrumentally, it’s a collage of elastic and bouncing sounds, with weird and abrasive vocals to match.
Whilst the change in sound is dramatic and sudden, it seems to act as a companion piece to its predecessor. Although it may be jarring, its bonkers nature is welcomed as it soothes any emotional wounds left by “Writing the Circles/Orgone Tropics”. “Plateau Phase/No Careerism No Corruption” is art pop at its finest.
The erratic experience draws to a close with “If You Talk To Symbol/Hostility Voyeur”. It begins as a downtempo, comedown inspired ballad, which echoes Soft Cell’s earlier works. It erupts into a larger than life chorus that acts a colourful front for the darkness beneath. Near the six-minute mark, of Montreal deliver a dance breakdown, with deep, churning synths and rapped vocals.
It continues to get even more weird as the latter half completely unravels into a truly bizarre sonic feast. It’s comprised of machine gun kicks and a triplet flow from Barnes himself; topped up with falsetto and a soaring synth line. It ends with a moody saxophone, mirroring the Simpson’s episode where Lisa delivers her sax eulogy for her idol, Bleeding Gums Murphy. Once the EP finishes, the train has well and truly derailed, leaving behind a flamboyant albeit macabre spectacle.
With White Relic/Irrealis Mood, of Montreal have delivered an EP that’s the equivalent to a mania-driven joyride and the crippling lows that follow.
It’s a whirlwind of emotions and it shines a light on human frailty. The group cover all the colours, leaving no shade unturned. They’ve delivered a worthy musical extravaganza that’ll make you dance, cry, and sing under the shattered disco ball of life.
Purchase of Montreal White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood EP on iTunes here, and stream it on Bandcamp below.
Words by Jake Gould