"You can perceive the world in so many different ways," says Of Montreal frontnut Kevin Barnes from his home in Athens, Georgia. "You can focus on the positive things, the sunlight and the trees growing and all the birds and animal life, all the beautiful things; or you can focus on genocide and torture, terrorism, abuse, and neglect." When he was starting to write Paralytic Stalks, the latest (and perhaps most direct) installment in the tireless, zig-zagging, psychedelic circus of a project he's led since 1997, Barnes seems to have skewed toward the latter. Which isn't to say the album, streaming below and due February 7 on Polyvinyl, is a funeral march. Largely inspired by avant-garde classical music, Paralytic Stalks is instead an exciting, at times outrageously melodic next step from a popsmith who seems most comfortable when he's moving forward. Check out his thoughts on each of its nine tracks:
"On some level it's trying to understand the way God communicates with humans. He's speaking to us through all these barbaric acts we're committing through each other. I'm not a very religious person. I was raised Catholic, but I practice Christianity in a more simplistic level, which is in my mind the only level it should exist: Trying to be a good person and not be completely narcissistic and self-consumed. My goal was to create something that was interesting lyrically, but then also was very expressive otherwise. Music it can speak to everybody in a way that English language can't."
"That's a song of self-loathing and mental anguish. The general theme of the whole record is trying to keep myself together when I'm faced with all this madness, trying to keep my relationships together. It's just a terrible struggle. But at the same time it's fairly catchy, musically. It's very melodic. I feel like for me when I'm writing music as a form of therapy, I try to keep the music buoyant and melodic because it helps me feel better on some level to make something that has some sort of hopefulness in it."
"That's a direct song to a friend of mine that I had a bit of falling out with. [It's about] the frustration if you're in a long-term platonic relationship with somebody and it reaches this point where you realize you're driving each other crazy. It's kind of interesting to break up with a friend. It's not like a romantic relationship. It's a friendship, but eventually you get to the point where it almost is like a sexual relationship where you have to split. You still love each other and care for each other, but for whatever reason, you can't be around each other anymore. I started to think of it as that's the percentage of positivity, the dour percentage."
"We Will Commit Wolf Murder"
"On some level, it's thinking about spiritual crisis, crying out for guidance and not hearing a voice in return, or hearing a nefarious voice. But on another level, also realizing how much we can get out of each other that we don't really need to speak to the heavens for support. We can find it amongst ourselves. Also just feeling like a monster, feeling fucked up and crazy. A lot of this record finds me thinking about the cruelty of humanity and exploring that aspect of the human condition, the way we treat each other. How barbaric and savage we can be, but also wanting to say something beautiful and not completely negative. It blows my mind to think that everyone starts as little babies, so innocent and naive and gentle for the most part, and at some point you become a murderer, you become a torturer — not most people, but a decent amount of people. I don't have a problem necessarily with young people joining the military, but that fact that there is a military, that we need a military, that there are commercials for militaries on TV just blows my mind at this stage of our existence. That we're so small minded about how to resolve conflict that we think it's okay to throw missiles and tanks and drones, airplanes that will just drop bombs wherever we feel like dropping bombs."
"It's sort of a troubled love song. I don't really want to talk about that one because it'svery personal. You can probably figure it out on your own. It's pretty straightforward."
"Ye, Renew the Plaintiff"
"This was the first one I started at home and it, in a way, set the tone for the record as far as the style of arrangement: free composition. The song kind of feels like maybe four or five different songs. It's something I've done in the past and a lot of other composers have done that as well. If you have a choice between writing a straight pop song and a through composition style, I tend to enjoy through composition because it's very free. You can do an eight-minute song, you can do a 20-minute song. Zach contributed a lot of really great stuff on that one: the cacophony, the saxes and weird sound. It's definitely one of my favorites on the record."
"It's got a bit of a country shuffle to it. It's got some pedal steel guitar and almost honky-tonk piano at times. That's another one that's personal: faults or issues, problems, realizing that you've just become really bitter and hateful. I'm trying to pull myself out of it in a way. If I'm in a happier state of mind I tend to write more whimsical and funkier things. If I'm in a bad state of mind I tend to write more personal things. Art can lift your spirits in a way, even if you're reveling in the darkness or whatever. At some point you'll receive the key to escape, if you're looking for it. I think I'll find it."
Exorcismic Breeding Knife?
"It's definitely the most unconventional arrangement I've ever created. There are cellos and woodwinds, some brass and interesting vocal arrangements. It's just sort of experimenting with anti-tonality and dissonance and things that you don't really find that much in pop music but you do find in classical music. It was polarizing, trying to decide whether or not I was going to put it on the record. It seemed that more people were against it than for it. I just had to remind myself that when I created it I was extremely excited about it. With this record, I'm not really trying to be commercial, I'm trying to be expressive. The fact that it's in no way commercial didn't cheapen in it my mind. If anything it made me feel better about it because it made me feel like this is a statement. It's coming from a really pure place."
"Authentic Pyrrhic Remission"
"This is definitely the most positive and lighthearted song on the record. Definitely. But there's this idea of trans-human singularity, the idea that where we're able to share knowledge with each other and increase the speed of our intellectual and emotional evolution. Right now, even though we have the ability to communicate with each other in ways that we never could before — text messaging and e-mailing — we're able to stay connected with each other all over the world, it doesn't really seem like we're evolving as quickly. We still see the same human mistakes over and over again. It's sort of a fantasy that at some point someone gets an idea and it's a very revolutionary concept and they're able to spread that to every other person in the world. And then someone else builds on that idea and it just keeps growing and growing and growing, but really quickly and for everybody, not just for small factions of people. So I was thinking about that idea, I love how we're learning from each other."