Of Montreal’s current incarnation seems to have been constructed, one building block at a time, by elements that have chronologically joined together, from the sprightly electronics that first appeared on 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, to the lush synth textures that dominated the following year’s The Sunlandic Twins, to the freak-funk overtones that came to prominence on 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? All of them have their place here, forming the twitching backbone of what’s their fullest, but not necessarily most satisfying, album.
Marshaled by spindly eccentric Kevin Barnes, the band has established itself as consistently adept at melding inanity with seriousness via batshit songs that are gaudy while socially conscious. It’s the kind of mixture that allows a moment like the end of “You Do Mutilate?,” in which Barnes gets angrily preachy about close-mindedness, to come off as earned rather than tiresome.
This combination of earnest and inane might have found its most perfect voice on 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, which explored shifting identities of genre and race. Of Montreal has only gotten more unconventional since then, which makes the band more ear-catching but threatens to upset that balance. From overlong song titles and near-precious character sketches, a tendency to overindulge in shrill weirdness has been one of their few constants. The distribution of such weirdness on False Priest, evidenced in the fitful combination of yelped vocals and spoken word that shows up on certain songs, is often brilliantly conceived. Yet this oddness also sometimes feels like a crutch, a device to be trotted out to impart diversity and heft.
This is the only real problem with False Priest, which is otherwise fluid and catchy enough to sustain itself. Songs rupture and transform into entirely different beings, melodies are tossed aside and replaced. It’s a tumultuous and colorful atmosphere, further enhanced by guest appearances from Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles; grounding the overflowing textures of songs like “Enemy Gene” and “Sex Karma,” these female voices offer a much-needed sense of parity and tunefulness. Of Montreal may keep getting weirder, but it’s the band’s garish melodic heart which makes them worth following.