“Fugitive Air” kicks off with Beck-inspired guitar twang, exhilarating bass work, and it already feels like an authentic Barnes creation within the first 32 bars. You can start a road trip with this song, and it’s a joyous immersion back into the Of Montreal canon.
Next comes “Obsidian Currents,” a mellow transition that effectively shows off the band’s versatility and range. The rising action channels the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” and the use of suspended and resolved chords makes for a chill vibe. Naturally, the lush melodies found in Barnes’ songs are often paired with rather fucked-up lyrical content; Barnes croons: “there is a virus in your tenets / don’t be naïve / you know it’s true.” Sylvianbriar operates as a concept album about scorned love and the paradox of trying to make sense of it all from your own flawed perspective.
Speaking of fucked-up lyrical content, the upbeat “Belle Glade Missionary” has a great line about schools getting blown up so children can go back into their factories. It harks back to an early rock-and-roll aesthetic, and includes some of the band’s most scathing satire to date.
“Sirens of your Toxic Spirit” and “Triumph of Disintegration” are another great pairing in the album, with the latter being reminiscent of The Sunlandic Twins era. Both deal with the album’s motif in different ways—while the former overanalyzes, the latter fantasizes about watching someone’s life fall apart because of your absence. These curious examples are a powerful admittance of humanity and Kevin Barnes seems very keen on both these perspectives.
“Amphibian Days” feels relatively lackluster compared to the songs before it—joining “Colossus” and “Raindrop in my Skull” this way—although it showcases some great piano work unheard elsewhere in the album. For pacing’s sake, it’s a necessary pull back, yet more could’ve been done here. “She Ain’t Speaking Now” charges in with acoustic and slide guitar, later going into overdrive, and “Heigra Émigré” furthers the momentum as one of the most fun, party-oriented songs on Sylvianbriar.
The final track, “Imbecile Rages” starts out like it knows it’s the last song, and doesn’t let up. In the climax, Barnes yells triumphantly, “I don’t have any hope for you anymore,” delivered as a final deathblow to the lingering feelings for a former love turned sour. Barnes radiates raw passion in this closing track, and the emotional depth cuts deep long after the album is over.
In the same vein of Sylvia Plath’s fiery prose, Lousy with Sylvianbriar is a vengeful effigy of failed romance, with only three minor hiccups along the path of a riveting album arc. It’s a rejuvenating release that shows a strong pulse still beating within Of Montreal—one that promises not to slow down anytime soon.
By Cory Healy
Video of ‘Fugitive Air’.