Perhaps Georgie Fruit got to be too much for Of Montreal mastermind Kevin Barnes to handle. Surely, such an alter ego would have crushed most of us mere mortals far sooner. Ever since the epic midpoint of Of Montreal’s 2007 masterstroke, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Georgie Fruit -- a profligate funk musician with a violent past and an especially lewd sexuality -- has been an integral part of OM’s mythology and its songs. As Georgie took up more and more of the spotlight, OM’s songs adjusted accordingly, becoming darker, sexier, and freakier. By the time False Priest arrived in 2010, Georgie Fruit was practically running the show – even if Barnes was no longer talking about him – and it was hard to believe that the same man responsible for The Beatles-indebted jangle-pop of Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies was the one penning lines like “’cause you look like a playground to me, playa” (“Sex Karma”, off of False Priest).
In 2012, Of Montreal released Paralytic Stalks, a troubled, uneven album full of dark brooding and progressive compositions. Maybe that was Barnes’s crashing point, his heavy thud of a comedown from the hypersexed lifestyle of Georgie Fruit, because Lousy With Sylvianbriar find Barnes on the mend: toned-down, but standing back up, returning to his old psychedelic influences as a means of recovering from his crash.
Don’t let that description fool you into thinking that Barnes has rewritten Coquelicot or even Satanic Panic in the Attic. This time around, Of Montreal is drawing on the headier influences of the ‘60s and ‘70s, more in tune with Bob Dylan than The Beatles or The Beach Boys (for all their experimental strivings, let’s agree that those latter two acts were always, deep down, pop bands). What makes Lousy With SylvianBriar a success is that its influences are just that: not stylistic edicts, but launching points for original creations. “Belle Glade Missionaries” is a semi-political freakout that could only be penned in 2013. The familial anxieties at the center of the shimmery triumph that is “Colossus” are pure Barnes: offbeat, funny, gruesome, startling, and, ultimately, revelatory. Closer “Imbecile Rages” layers distorted riffing over sunny strumming to create a sort of hooky dissonance. The tenderness of “Raindrop in My Skull” is by turns sweetly present and frustratingly elusive – i.e., perfectly cathartic.
We spent a lot of time in this review mucking around the road to Lousy With Sylvianbriar – more time, in fact, then we did talking about the new album itself. There’s a reason for that: Of Montreal’s latest feels like a transitional effort (like the way The Sunlandic Twins moved Barnes and company from Satanic Panic in the Attic to Hissing Fauna…). Barnes is getting back on his feet. He’s moving in an interesting and worthwhile direction. But he hasn’t found the goal just yet.