It has been said that an original artist is not a person who emulates no one, but rather is somebody that no one can emulate.
Over the last fifteen years, of Montreal has imitated everyone (86 covers and counting), while developing its own inimitable sound -- a unique mixture of indie-pop, glam-rock, funk, and R&B.
Though private and reserved, frontman Kevin Barnes wears his fame like a feathered fedora: on the children's show Yo Gabba Gabba, in collaborations with Spike Jonze, on stage spanking pigs with Susan Sarandon, on horseback in NYC's Roseland Ballroom, and even spontaneously performing six songs nude during a concert in Las Vegas.
And yet, perhaps the most shocking aspect of Barnes' career is something he has NOT done during his previous 15 years as a musician: entered the studio. As Barnes puts it, of Montreals first nine albums were made with just one man, a computer, and a dirty dream."
"You really could describe Kevin as somebody like Prince," says of Montreal lead guitarist Bryan Poole. "He can play everything and view everything all on his own. There's a kind of magic when you've done it all yourself."
As such, Barnes' decision to eschew his customary Athens-based home studio was one that could only be made once the ideal scenario presented itself. He was waiting for the perfect place, Ocean Way Recording, the world's most awarded studio ( Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra), and the perfect producer, Jon Brion (Kanye West, Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright).
"You know, I was so lucky and privileged to have Jon step in and offer his services and open up all these doors for me sonically, says Barnes. There's no way I could buy this sort of education. I think he saw me and thought, 'Okay, here's this guy, he's got good ideas, he's got good songs, but the way he goes about recording is not the best way as far as getting the highest, or most satisfying audio fidelity.'"
And so, just as Jon Brion convinced Kevin to ditch his laptop, you should ditch it too. If you hear the bands new album in your headphones, you won't hear the half of it. False Priest is of Montreal at its most bumping, with falsettos so high and bass so low, you need to blast it in the car or in the club if you want the full-body massage, a CinemaScopic sound that only Brion could lend.
Together they have created of Montreal's masterpiece -- a fully liberated marriage of mind and body, a perfectly executed sonic delight. In place of midi instruments and endless laptop tinkering, Barnes and Brion re-tracked guitars and basses, and fleshed out the album's songs with live drums, pianos, and entire string sections.
With unlimited access to Brion's extensive collection of near-impossible-to-find analog gear, they were able to capture a sound that is as timeless as the songs Barnes has penned.
Take, for example, "Coquet Coquette" -- a driving, groove-oriented rocker punctuated by a Morricone-style guitar and dexterous bassline amid walls of cinematic noise. Or the propulsive and eclectic dance floor track "Like a Tourist," which is reminiscent of Prince's brightest moments and showcases some of the album's most intriguing experiments with sub-bass.
In addition, the album walks a paper thin line between rock and funk/R&B due in part to guest spots by Solange Knowles (Beyonce's sister) and Janelle Monae (whose latest record, The ArchAndroid, Barnes guests on).
"Our Riotous Effects," the first of two appearances by Monae, is a slice of bombastic funk that finds Barnes channeling the classic Gap Band track "You Dropped The Bomb On Me." The song features an inspired spoken word turn that features Barnes musing about a "Crazy Girl" who, among many other things, kills his beta fish. Monae also contributes to "Enemy Gene," a warm, futuristic disco duet about hope and love in an apocalyptic world.
With Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye in their ears, Barnes and Knowles team up on "Sex Karma," a boogie-on-reggae-woman, got-to-give-it-up, funky-space-reincarnation: you look like a playground to me, player.
Barnes has described working with Knowles and Janelle Monae and her Wondaland Arts Society as a "new inspiration, the greatest gift you could ask for." The feeling is certainly mutual, with Knowles declaring in a recent interview: Kevin's a musical genius; there are just so many layers to work with."
This notion of allowing your layers to be peeled away as of Montreal does with each new album, with each elaborate stage performance, with each crazy exploit is one that Barnes addresses through the title False Priest.
Despite the connotations it evokes, the name is not a diatribe against organized religion. Instead, as Barnes explains, "False Priest is not a person. It's a self-delusion, putting restrictions on self that don't need to be there."
Assuredly, the first step toward shedding these inhibitions is to experience of Montreals new record in the company of others. In an age when we too often listen to music alone, False Priest gives us a reason to call up friends, family, lovers, haters, even strangers on the street.
The album is a surrealist treasure that must be shared to be understood. Because, as the album closes, if you think some prophets words are more important than your brother and your sister, youre ill and youre wrong.