Kevin Barnes’ success as Of Montreal’s figurehead and frontman has depended on his ability to balance extremes; funk and balladry, chaos and order, abstraction and focus. Like his stylistic predecessor David Bowie, Barnes usually threads this needle with ease and efficiency, but when that tension breaks to the abstract side, the results leave little for the listener to hold onto.
Of Montreal’s new record, Innocence Reaches, usually strikes this balance deftly. Fourteen albums in, Barnes and his revolving roster of a band have expanded their sound ever so slightly to incorporate more hazy synths and glam freak-outs to their pop confections. The band reportedly channeled electronic outfits like Chairlift and Arca for this outing, which, added to Barnes’ ongoing obsession with McCartney-esque melodies, makes for an intriguing listen.
Innocence Reaches works best when it offers surprises after seducing with slinky bass lines and sleepy bloops and bleeps. On the seemingly dark and quiet “A Sport And A Pastime,” on which Barnes sings “I want to belong to you” and “I want to be yours,” the song gradually implodes and Barnes’ vocals become chopped up and modulated, eventually surrounding the song like a snowstorm. This choice is especially apt for a song about losing oneself, and it’s these stylistic and production decisions that make Barnes and his bandmates such perceptive musicians.
Other surprises abound, such as the acoustic-guitar flourishes in the middle of the hi-hat disco of “My Fair Lady” and the momentary switch from dark electronica to a Shins-like ballad one minute into “Def Pacts.” As with “Pastime,” this change perfectly complements Barnes’ lyrics, which dive into sentimentality for the quiet section (“Won’t you be sweet? Won’t you always be there?”) and a shift to bitterness for the louder remainder (“I think you’re just looking for a reason to go off the rails, start another bender”).
When these changes make emotional sense, the songs on Innocence Reaches work like gangbusters. It’s when the consistency falters (as with the record’s end, when the unfocused “Trashed Exes” and “Chap Pilot” close out the album) that Barnes seems to be losing balance. Still, the highs are dizzying.