Kevin Barnes is clearly not a man for taking a break. Over the last 16 years, of Montreal's leading light has rattled off close to a record a year. And these are never just any old long-player; each is antithetical to its predecessor, a bleeding statement of Barnes' thirst for forward-thinking pop melodies.
Of course, with such neverending productivity comes an inevitable decline in quality control. In fact, you could argue Barnes hasn't produced a truly great record since 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?—an album which remains his psych-pop masterpiece.
Lousy With Sylvianbriar doesn't quite scale such hurdy-gurdy heights, but in terms of intrigue Barnes nails his 12th of Montreal studio album with some style. Stripped down to just organic instruments, this effects-bereft affair spotlights its creator's songcraft without using any electronically-coined psychedelics.
For the most part, it works. Album opener "Fugitive Air" is typically upbeat and poppy, filled with louche guitar slides and effortlessly pithy lines like "How can I unmake someone else's mistakes?" "She Ain't Speakin' Now" is just as pulsating, contrasting its minimalist forecourt against a vibrant clang of a chorus.
But it also has the tendency to limp in places. "Amphibian Days" is a piano-centered ballad that barely breaks a sweat, while the Bob Dylan-like jaunt "Hegira Émigré" rambles along without the poise expected of of Montreal. Yet the plaintive probes of "Siren of Your Toxic Spirit" are as bare as Barnes has ever been, gliding into a flutter of heart-melting mandolin and brushing percussion.
By producing an album without electronic stimulants, Kevin Barnes continues to explore fresh musical dimensions. And while it might not always pay off, Lousy With Svlvianbriar proves once again he has a songwriting consistency few can match.
First published here for Under the Radar