"Authentic Pyrrhic Remission." "We Will Commit Wolf Murder." "The Blank Husband Epidemic." Even if you're just looking at the surface level of song titles, of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes' words conjure up a dark, disturbing world of bizarre imagery. But what's the specific meaning of a phrase like "Exorcismic Breeding Knife?" Barnes says it's more about the feeling than the definition. "I like words that fit together in a disconcerting way, or a way you might not expect," he says. "So I started with 'exorcismic.' I don't even know if that's a word. I don't think it is. And then, 'breeding knife.' I just liked the way that sounds."
That being said, of Montreal isn't necessarily a relentlessly dark band. The group's broad body of work is best described as pyschedelic glam-pop, and Barnes' trippy wordplay also encompasses less foreboding phrases like "Peacock Parasols" and "Tulip Baroo." But the band's latest, Paralytic Stalks, delves into consistently grim territory, influenced by Barnes' mood while he was working on the record. "I was going through a lot of depression," he says. "It was a difficult time."
The result is a record that's far more personal for Barnes, especially compared to the previous works he's turned out under the persona of glammy stage alter-ego Georgie Fruit. "When I'm in that space, I can't really get into writing from the perspective of a different character," he says. "I have to channel that energy into something positive." And although the new material comes from a dark psychological period, Barnes seems unafraid of working in that vein. "I think I'd like to visit that space again," he says.
Besides the lyrical shifts in Barnes' songwriting on Paralytic Stalks, he also delved into new melodic territory, adding classical music to of Montreal's genre grab-bag. Several cuts feature lengthy passages of dense, threatening string-based noise. Barnes says those tracks involved a layered, collaborative creative process. "'Exorcismic Breeding Knife' started off as just kind of that spoken section you hear," he says. "Then I sent it to [strings player] Kishi Bashi and he added to it. I sent it to [horns player] Zach Colwell and he added some stuff to it. We kind of built it like that."
Of course, there are some challenges in translating this complex new material to a live setting as the band's gone about taking it on the road. "There's a few things in the backing tracks, but I really like to keep as much of the music onstage as possible," he says. "I think it's translated pretty well so far."
Sans Georgie Fruit, the new tour does incorporate some fresh visual fireworks to accent the more dour tunes. Along with his wife and brother, Barnes developed a lightshow and projected animations coordinated with each tune played onstage. "When we're up onstage, it just looks like a bunch of bright lights," he says. "But it's been pretty amazing seeing some of the videos of the performances and seeing what it looks like from the audience."
After 16 years in action, the band still consistently attracts a strong fan following despite being one of the more bizarre–even off-putting–groups on the scene. Barnes chalks that success up to an audience willing to roll with the band's punches. "I love pop music," he says. "But I love pop music that breaks the rules and challenges the ideas of what pop music should be. And I think our fans are people who don't want the same thing all the time. I think they're people who want to be surprised." | RDW
of Montreal • 6/18, 8 p.m. • Crofoot Ballroom • 1 South Saginaw, Pontiac • 248.858.9333 • thecrofoot.com • $15 ADV/$18 DOS