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of Montreal
UR FUN Matthew Horton , January 29th, 2020 10:08

Kevin Barnes finds love on the sixteenth Of Montreal album, finds Matthew Horton

If reality isn’t up to snuff, just make your own. In the absence of any actual hits in their two-decade lifespan, Kevin Barnes – of Montreal’s only ever-present member over the long, thankless haul – aimed to make their sixteenth album UR FUN at least sound like a greatest hits collection. Bright and catchy, memorable but disposable; it’s a plausible job.

The early years weren’t like this. Straight outta Athens, Georgia, a seemingly interminable stream of albums went for a wonky-folk-songs-recorded-in-a-cardboard-box vibe that slotted in nicely with fellow Elephant 6 Collective comrades Neutral Milk Hotel but didn’t satisfy much else. A developing willingness to ramp up the power helped, without sacrificing the psychedelia and slightly precious titles (‘Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games’, ‘Our Spring Is Sweet Not Fleeting’), and by 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins, Barnes and whoever made up the rest of the band at the time had something you wouldn’t turn off immediately.

That pop sensibility’s evolved palpably since, picking up hip celeb fans like Solange Knowles and finding Barnes revealing his inner Prince on 2012’s possible career-high Paralytic Stalks. After a succession of solid sets, a bit of that zip was lost on 2018’s White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, a scrubbed-clean imitation of Depeche Mode – and no one’s wanted those guys to be pure since 1982. But UR FUN is as concise, focused, and sparkling as of Montreal have ever been. From the toybox synth-pop of ‘Gypsy That Remains’ to the Zombies-meets-Dandy Warhols garage-psych of ‘20th Century Schizofriendic Revengoid Man’, this is an unabashed, forty-minute joyride.

Not to say Barnes and the band are any less preposterous. The verbosity and abundant self-awareness that brought us album titles like Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse and snappy mouthfuls like ‘Chthonian Dirge For Uruk The Other’ is very much intact. “I no longer feel like lying is just a form of self-love, at least not to the same degree,” he TED-Talks after the first starry-eyed chorus of ‘You've Had Me Everywhere’, a song so sweet it’s almost repellent. Later, Barnes makes a wordy play for the support of freelance writers across the world with “It is the hour of the wolf and so they strive to keep all work content-free” on the T.Rex-y glam of ‘Don’t Let Me Die In America’. Incidentally, T.Rex – there’s another band who went from ersatz folk mystics to pure-pop sex-riff machines. Just keep your eyes on the road.

The best is the lithe, heavenly ‘Gypsy That Remains’, assisted by Barnes’ own partner, Christina Schneider of Locate S,1, apparently the inspiration for the more personal work here. Perhaps that’s the secret to seeing so clearly in 2020: all you need is love.