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"Skeletal lamping/The controller sphere/False priest” declared Kevin Barnes in 2007, for reasons best known to himself.
That all major Of Montreal releases subsequent to Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? have taken their name from one of those non-sequiturs may or may not be significant in the greater scheme of things. But as thecontrollersphere EP finally hoovers up the middle part of the phrase, you’d be hard-pressed to make a robust case for Barnes having escaped Hissing Fauna…’s gravity in the years subsequent to its release. Okay, his exponential increase in perviness and enthusiastic adventures in funk mean that the Of Montreal of now is clearly different to the one of four years back. And if anything the band has become defined as much by its WTF stage-show as its actual music. But therein lies the problem – the band has always had a memorable live show, but what elevated Barnes from talented eccentricity to out and out genius was the searing emotional connection of Hissing Fauna…, Icons, Abstract Thee and (to a lesser extent) Skeletal Lamping.
Taken on its own merits, False Priest was a fine record, but the best moments were the most fucked up (notably ‘Do You Mutilate?’) and ultimately it didn’t begin to match Hissing Fauna…, simply because it lacks that album’s emotional accessibility. Thecontrollersphere is essentially a False Priest offcuts EP, and thus logic would dictate that the same criticism would apply. And it kind of does, but holy moly – lead track ‘Black Lion Massacre’ download here is something else. Sure, its crushing, scouring sheets of distortion do not in and of themselves add much to the noise rock genre. And a robot voice saying things like “People slaughtered each other out of joy, people murdered their pets, pissed on each other, masturbated in their front yards” is not entirely out of keeping with this band. But it does push the sonic harshness and spiritual depravity that’s crept into Barnes’ work of late into such extreme territory that the spectre of 2007 is comprehensively cast aside – is this what O.M.M.4 would sound like? Obviously it would, on a very real level, be totally batshit mental to suggest that the only sensible artistic course Barnes could take at this point would be to ditch basically everything that people love about his songwriting and start making alienatingly aggressive works of avant-horror. But it would also be pretty fucking amazing - the song's aggressive, overcharged physical presence feels like a messed up but weirdly right progression on Skeletal Lamping's more extreme moments.
Elsewhere we're in more familiar waters, which is kind of a shame. It feels like a little more could have been made of the sub-three minute ‘Flunkt Sass vs The Root Plume’, but Barnes’ heavily distorted slo-mo scream of “they are poisoning us from the sky” is satisfyingly blood chilling and congruous with the freakout vibes of ‘Black Lion Massacre’. But the eight minute ‘Holiday Call’ is definitely half baked - the daft whistle break is pretty fun, in a ‘Stonehenge’ type way, and the five minute coda of sweeping faux-Arabian strings is enjoyable, but the vaguely pervy electropop song it’s all bolted on to is nothing new for the band. And the apparent use of electronic instruments leaves thecontrollorsphere sounding noticeably thin next to the lusty organic textures of False Priest. Similarly, ‘L’age D’or’ and ‘Slave Translator’ sound like the sort of solid fare that would have slotted onto the middle of False Priest perfectly well, only if they'd made the album they'd probably have benefitted from a fuller sound and a celbrity guest vocal.
And that’s about the size of it. It's not Icons, Abstract Thee, but let’s not pretend that an excellent lead track and a handful of perfectly agreeable additional songs is bad going for an odds’n’sonds EP. Still, in both its strengths and weaknesses, thecontrollorsphere is suggestive of a band in need of some renewal.
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