White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood
Polyvinyl Recording Co. · March 09, 2018
Music that comes from a dark place can still resonate. With the new release of White is Relic/Irrealis Mood, of Montreal front man Kevin Barnes does not shy away from his internal anguish and anxiety. There are 42 minutes of deep seated, ruminating mental conflicts and frustration spread across six tracks. Each one solidifying of Montreal’s reputation for an evolving sound.
As opposed to earlier albums, of Montreal’s 15th official release was not recorded by the band in its entirety. Lead front man and primary creator, Kevin Barnes, outsourced compositions and recordings and compiled the album alone. The final product of this synthesis is a synth-pop album, shadowed by funk and rock melodies, and encompassed by darker themes and tones. Each track is broken up into two titles that show the duality of each song. Just looking at the track list made me anxious and uneasy. That feeling stayed with me through my first playthrough… and the second. Quite honestly, it took several plays to get rid of the feeling. After listening to the first song, I realized that this EP was entirely unconventional.
Kevin Barnes has no respect for what you may think a traditional song is. First off, we are given a five-and-a-half-minute song with two parts. The first half communicates a theme of self-caused blights in his love life. There are lyrics like “It’s hard to stop the triggering of one’s self-destructive urges,” and choruses that sound like a robot annunciating each syllable through the voice box of a moody teenager. His voice carries a nasally, matter-of-fact tone that can be observed consistently throughout the album. The second phase is the emotional drop of the song that is triggered by the sudden influx of soothing, high harmony notes followed by a keyboard solo. The sudden shift in this track, like all the others, abolishes the natural construction of the expected outline of a pop, rock, or indie song. Not that any way of making art is bad, per say, but it certainly wasn’t appealing on the first listen through.
The first time I listened to this album I felt like my brain was being picked in all the wrong places. The lyrics in the songs felt forced. Lyrically, Barnes’ linguistic detail was confounding. For example, he fills “Plateau Phase / No Career in Corruption,” a heavy base song that deals with societal paranoia and anxieties, with lines like: “Of pejorative outreach outlaws,” and “and transgenic operatives,” and “Acyanoblepsia.” Listeners have to juggle both the peculiar words and an even more peculiar interpretation of these words. Each EP should come with a dictionary and a thesaurus. In terms of pacing, when I expected there to be a lull for instrumental music, Barnes’ vocals would come staggering in. In “Soft Music / Juno Portraits of a Jovian Sky,” it almost sounds like Barnes interrupted himself at the end of the first chorus. It was extremely cringeworthy. It kind of felt like I was slapped across the face with a paddle that left an outline of ‘Ha, you thought’ in inflamed, irritated red. The distractions and hiccups were abundant and were the main cause of my dissatisfaction throughout the EP. I couldn’t get into a groove while listening to this EP, even though this was compiled of what was supposed to be ONLY grooves.
The smoothest, grooviest track was the eight-minute-long “If You Talk to Symbol / Hostility Voyeur.” The finale of the EP, this song demonstrates of Montreal’s talent with a diverse, intense track. An engaging initial melody is followed by bursts of the most passionate vocals Barnes has on the album, and then later followed by a catchy, urban funk tune that slowly diminishes out through some soulful jazz. This track demonstrates the skill that is embedded in this album, behind all the jank. Barnes, throughout the entire album, undeniably owns the low-fi, dark-web 80s get-up that he created for this EP. He mixes in a wide range of notes used for emphasis while still incorporating multiple styles of music. His synthesized melodies and the phasing he does in the background of every song is amplified with each listen. While the final creation is undeniably detailed and intricate, it is also jarring and ugly. The lack of cohesion found in this EP is what will isolate its unique sound from a larger audience looking for more order and consistency.