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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Rachel Pott
Rachel Pott
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I am a marketing major about to start my second year at Northern Michigan University, however, this will be my third year in college. I previously attended a small community college...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

COMPETE — The Cats end the regular season ranked five in the GLIAC.
Women's Volleyball finishes GLIAC tournament season in Quarterfinals against MTU
Lily GouinNovember 17, 2023

Of Montreal applies diverse influences

It seems unlikely that Kevin Barnes, the creative force behind the avant-garde pop group Of Montreal, struggles much with writer’s block.

Since the group’s conception in 1997, Of Montreal has released 11 full-length albums, the last five of which were written, recorded and performed almost entirely by Barnes.

The decision to take up the reigns as sole creator was synonymous with a pivotal change of direction; what began as a relatively simple guitar-bass-drums outfit from Athens, Georgia gradually morphed into the wildly eclectic version of the group that exists today.

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To provide some context for those unfamiliar with Of Montreal, their will to be weird is unparalleled. If you don’t revel in the abstract end of the spectrum, turn back now. The subject matter is dark and full of unfiltered, extremely personal expressions from Barnes; topics touch on sex, self-loathing and unabashed hedonism.

The instrumentation, however, isn’t so much a reflection of humanity’s dark secrets as it is a celebration of them. Barnes draws from funk, glam rock and electronica to create unpredictable, off-kilter compositions (think Prince-meets-Animal Collective) that are inventive and catchy as hell. As for the live shows, elaborate theatrics and lots of men in dresses are pretty much the norm. Of Montreal’s latest release, “Paralytic Stalks,” is a satisfying combination of business-as-usual and evolution for Barnes and company.

Following 2007’s acclaimed “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?”, Barnes steered away from his transparent, confessional writing tendencies and adopted an alter-ego named Georgie Fruit (not kidding), while experimenting even further with his music on 2010’s “False Priest” and 2011’s “Controllersphere EP.”

“Paralytic Stalks” returns to the intense, full-to-the-brim pop music and lay-it-all-out-there style of writing that makes Of Montreal a standout in contemporary music. The music is pretty indecipherable; rarely can one instrument be singled out from the rest, but that’s not to suggest things sound overly-convoluted. As a composer, Barnes continues to weave the delicate and extremely interesting sonic web he’s known for.

Opening track “Gelid Ascent” eases into Barnes’ colorful consciousness with echoed vocals and a climactic squall of synthesizers and organs backing his introspections about narcissism and self-consumption.

“Spiteful Intervention” and “Dour Percentage” follow; more upbeat and melodic tracks accentuated by funky bass lines and woodwind sections. The dark ruminations continue, with Barnes loosely addressing religion, broken friendships and infidelity. On “Spiteful Intervention” he sings, “I made the one I love start crying tonight/and it felt good/still there must be a more elegant solution.”

Not surprisingly, there are tracks that favor experimentation over melody. “Exorcismic Breed Knife?” is an eight-minute odyssey into anti-tonality and dissonance, both concepts drawn from classical music composition and applied to Barnes’ twisted brand of neo-classical pop. “Wintered Debts” is a journey into the shallows of country music, with a nicely-placed pedal steel guitar making its way into the mix.

As tracks began to leak from “Paralytic Stalks” prior to its release, commentary often suggested that it was “too fragmented” or “obtuse.” The problem with these sorts of observations seems fundamentally flawed. Approaching any material from Of Montreal with the intent of taking away some sort of concrete truths or definitive ideas about what exactly Barnes was going for is what seems obtuse.

If you subscribe to the idea that an artist owes you an explanation outside of their own terms, “Paralytic Stalks” probably isn’t for you. This is honest self-expression and it sounds really good.

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