2004 was a great year for Of Montreal. They stopped sounding like The Beatles on bath salts and released Satanic Panic in the Attic, a well-produced funky synth-pop album and their first for Polyvinyl Records (the host of bands such as Alvvays, Beach Slang, Deerhoof, The Dodos, Japandroids & Painted Palms). Satanic Panic in the Attic was a massive shift for the group not just because of the new label and shuffling of band members (they swapped out two new guitarists and a bassist), but because of their sonic-shift, and they never went back.
Lucky for us, the move gave us records like Satanic Panic in the Attic, The Sulandic Twins, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Skeletal Lamping, and False Priest, carrying them into 2010. With False Priest, Of Montreal were at the high of their career. They were the closest to main stream success that they have ever been; they had Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles as features, and they even got some radio play on indie satellite radio.
Since then, lead singer Kevin Barnes seems to have been straying from the path and going through some personal shit because 2012’s Paralytics Stalks and Daughter of Cloud were both very unpleasant, dark, and full of self-hatred. 2013’s Lousy with Sylvanbriar and last year’s Aureate Gloom picked the pace back up and sounded more like the Of Montreal we all knew and loved, with even more of a focus on guitars and the rock-folk of their past before 2004, but the material just wasn’t there. It’s something I can similarly say of their newest record, Innocence Reaches.
The only difference between Aureate Gloom and Innocence Reaches however, is the song material. Tracks like “it’s different for girls” just sound wrong coming from Kevin Barnes. There’s nothing original happening, and it honestly sounds like they don’t even know what they’re doing anymore. It sounds like they’re exhausted. At their 14th studio record, it partly makes sense. That’s a lot of material. With Barnes as the lead frontman and principle songwriter, it’s all been coming from him since 1996.
Here on Innocence Reaches, he sounds tired. Since they’ve released a record each year since they started, they’ve developed a huge catalog of material, but it seems Of Montreal and especially Kevin Barnes have hit a wall. They’ve plateaued. It’s not the not the last we’ll hear of them I’m sure, as 2017 is sure to produce another Innocence Reaches, but for a band that thrives on putting dark and melancholy lyrics over the most sarcastically upbeat and dance-able tracks possible, they’re just now starting to feel sad.