Since 2007’s ambitious, masterful Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, absorbing an Of Montreal album has become a feat akin to eating Thanksgiving dinner for four—then going out for fusion tacos. There’s a lot to take in. Paralytic Stalks finds frontman Kevin Barnes once again attempting to exorcise his personal demons through a dizzying pop whirlwind. It’s a further refinement of his defiantly complex sound, which this time reconciles the naiveté of his ’60s psych-pop roots with his recent post-Prince sex jams.
The hi-fi sonic retrofitting that producer Jon Brion gave False Priest extends here, though that album’s relatively simplistic pop structures are tossed out in favor of stacking songs to the ceiling with arrangements that shift and warp like funhouse mirrors. The alien guitar blasts that fuel “Gelid Ascent” sound like the Flaming Lips jetting past Alpha Centauri; 13-minute closer “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission” includes what can gently be described as a jazz-flute orgy gone wrong. But in between rests an accessible range of pop sweetness, from the campy self-hatred of “Spiteful Intervention” to the spare, lovely acoustic guitars that introduce “Wintered Debts,” the set’s most focused effort. Barnes makes impressive use of collaborator Kishi Bashi’s string arrangements, which evoke a Brazilian cocktail hour (“Malefic Dowery”) and supply cinematic grandeur (“We Will Commit Wolf Murder”) alike.
By album’s end, Barnes seems to have worked through his troubles: “I love how we’re learning from each other,” he gushes. “You are such a positive / you’re so empowering!” It’s quite the shift from the lonely soul of “Wintered Debts,” who looks inward, away from his groin, for wisdom: “I need to teach myself to feel again / somehow I lost the thread of being human.” Chasing that thread through the galactic id of Paralytic Stalks feels like a marathon at times, but it’s a trek worth repeating.