Montreal's hottest freaks are still at the party at “Lady on the Cusp”


Over the course of 27 years, Kevin Barnes has released 20 albums and five EPs as Of Montreal, almost on par with Guided by Voices (okay, not really, but they're closer than most). But what sets Of Montreal apart is Kevin Barnes' constant restlessness, which makes most of their albums fascinating listening experiences, whether they break new ground or burn to the ground. From Montreal, they are at their best when they are dangerous and uninhibited, and at their worst when they choose to play well.

Not surprisingly, the best aspects of Lady on the threshold, the current quartet's latest LP, are those moments when Barnes refuses to behave. Despite moving with her partner from the vibrant music scene of Athens, Georgia to the laid-back atmosphere of Vermont, Barnes hasn't lost his edge and refuses to conform to lyrical norms. At Lady on the thresholdBarnes' commentary ranges from the slightly clever (“Rock 'n' Roll is dead / Tthat's why it's cool”) to the troubled opener “Music Hurts the Head” to the downright callous (“Distortion sucks / Your mother Should know”) the MC Hammer-inspired “2 Depressed 2 Fuck.” But Barnes gets downright bizarre with gems like “Stepping on Scorpions to lose my erection,” the indie thriller “Rude Girl on Rotation” and “With my Prayer Beads and My Anal Beads / Hope I don't mix them up.” “about the space-funk of “Yung Hearts Bleed Free.”

But what elevates these moments above those of the band's previous two albums, 2022? Freewave Lucifer Fck and 2021 I feel safe with you, Garbage is a sense of clarity and calm that has been missing from the group's sound for some time. After some success in the mid-2000s, Barnes' music faced challenges in the early 2010s as the number of musicians changed and everyone with a connection to her Elephant Six origins left the club.

Instead of relying on longtime members Jojo Glidewell and Clayton Rychlik, who have each been with the group for over a decade, Barnes opted to record much of it Lady of the Lace alone. Although barely over two-minute songs like the tumultuous “I Can Read Smoke” and the electronic polyrhythmic “Poetry Surf” punch above their respective weight while sounding adventurous and compact, Barnes falls back on her old tricks in the falsetto dance number “Soporific Cell,” the experimental dance-pop of “PI$$ PI$$” and the pounding closer “Genius in the Wind.”

Longtime fans should recognize this Lady on the threshold as a strong late-career addition to Of Montreal's extensive discography, largely due to Barnes' larger-than-life personality. But you can only be the hottest freak at the party for so long before it starts to get boring.