Athens, Ga.-based glam-popsters Of Montreal are one of the most reliably eccentric groups out there, and have been for about 15 years. While the band is rarely subtle in delivery when taken in small doses, over the years, their sound has proven subtly transformative. Never has this chameleonic quality been more apparent than the last five years, most notably when the 12-minute epic “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” bore a rift in frontman Kevin Barnes’ 2007 opus, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, so big that Barnes came out the other side a bisexual glam pop sex-god named Georgie Fruit. And EPs like Icons, Abstract Thee and now thecontrollersphere are crucial reinforcements to this transformation.
“Black Lion Massacre” sets the listener up for a gut check out of the gates. It paints a scene of revolting chaos where “people slaughter each other out of joy / people murdered their pets / pissed on each other / masturbated in their front yards / vomited in public fountains,” and so on. Then, as their bodies transform and rejoice, a metal march commences with cymbal crashes and dark chords that slowly churn in and out of chaos to play out the track. Then on “Flunkt Sass vs. the Root Plume,” futuristic glam pop swirls around Barnes as he is seemingly grounded: “Even this ghetto world that has nothing / doesn’t want me,” confirming the harsh reality of the world Barnes has been ignoring while gallivanting as Georgie Fruit.
At this point in his career, everybody knows Barnes is one for theatrics, but these opening tracks are of a demonic and bleak tone that haven’t been remotely present since the first half of Hissing Fauna. Skeletal Lamping was a psycho-sexual tour through Fruit’s fantasies, and False Priest was the maturation of humane emotion and/or suppression of strictly erotic impulses in Fruit. Thecontrollersphere confirms this, but in contrasting fashion, using darkly humble and somewhat stream-of-conscious writing. From “Flunkt Sass,” Barnes calls on his “lord” for guidance in “Holiday Call” before an uncharacteristically consistent and longwinded outro, and awkwardly displays a new sense of self-awareness on “L’age D’or” and “Slave Translator,” the most accessible track in the short collection.
All told, it’s a clarifying step forward in their career with an attractive and diverse, albeit abrasive at times, presentation. Musically they open doors with futuristic sounds, while blunted lyrics of harsh personal reflection make the experimentations more approachable. These songs are clearly more dramatic and engrossing than the more straightforward pop of the same session that wound up on False Priest. More importantly, it’s also more personal, as Barnes finally faces up to his past. While this may not make for a listen as immediately entertaining as its predecessor, it’s much more forward-thinking musically and rewarding.