On Jan. 13, of Montreal released “Rune Husk,” the 22nd addition to their extensive discography. At only four songs long, the EP is a short trip into the psyche of Kevin Barnes, the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind the project. The band is built on the premise that they are imitating, to a large extent, the styles of previous artists — most notably the Beatles and David Bowie.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. For 19 years, Barnes has successfully avoided pigeon-holing himself too much into one specific sound. He’s dipped his toe into everything from folk to EDM, and each successive release has been a distinctly different version of more of the same.
If nothing else, the man is incredibly prolific. Averaging one album per year, Barnes seems determined to unleash his off-kilter music upon a legion of patient, forgiving fans. However, in recent years, it seems that Barnes has made it his personal mission to alienate audiences by delving further into his brand of self-indulgent strangeness. Despite the hit-or-miss nature of much of these projects, I’d prefer it to underwhelming mediocrity of “Rune Husk.”
Barnes’ newest EP contains all the elements that have come to characterize of Montreal’s brand of psychedelic experimentalism, drawn from ‘60s-‘80s rock, and all the innovation those eras brought. No doubt, the parts are all there — but they don’t quite form a whole, cohesive thing on “Rune Husk.”
The only real ounce of enjoyment I could gather from the EP came from the second track, “Stag to the Stable”. The space-operatic power ballad features a catchy hook, and fairly straightforward but still clever lyrics dealing with the pains of transformation, a familiar theme found in of Montreal’s music (“Disappearing is eerie when you don’t care to maintain a physical form/Or give voice to the prior claim till then a vacation cruise”).
Weirdness is not always a measure of inherent creativity, and at times it seems that Barnes is trying to be too clever for his own good. I find that songs like these, despite not being saturated in layers of bizarreness, find a happy balance and are no less creative than some of his more shapeless creations. I wouldn’t call the track revolutionary by any means, but nonetheless, it’s a bright light in an otherwise black pit of an album.
of Montreal diverts back into the bizarre with “Island Life,” the album’s closing track. Drawn-out psychedelic waves are weighed down by textured noise ebb and flow, backing Barnes as he lays down his distinctive method of storytelling. The narrative, while not the best to have come from Barnes, is still as interesting and convoluted as one could ever hope for (I’m still trying to figure out what the hell “Kin derelict out of shifty ranges/Could be drones or/Fetal sex traumas without revenge/Are pouring execution climax/Of trinity maggot” is supposed to mean.).
All things considered, the EP didn’t do too much for me. It’s not that I actively dislike it, but the tracks don’t give the listener much to react to, which is arguably its biggest miss. “Rune Husk” is a relatively accessible sample of the band’s style, but not necessarily in a good way, and I’d have preferred almost any emotional response to the staleness of much of the album, even a “what the hell is this”. If anything, the album is proof that constantly spewing out new music is not to of Montreal’s advantage, and in their case, sometimes less is more.