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of Montreal

June 18 at 8:00 pm

On Tuesday, June 18th the Community Center for the Performing Arts proudly welcomes of Montreal to the WOW Hall.

of Montreal

Kevin Barnes did not believe they could ever leave Georgia. Barnes arrived in the erstwhile college-rock hub of Athens around 1996, a pop four-tracker in their early twenties with permissive images of Bowie, Prince, and Iggy Pop prancing through their head. Almost immediately, of Montreal became a signal flare for a slowly changing South. Barnes, who will answer to any pronoun you proffer, bent gender and genre through complicated and ever-delightful records, trouble and woe fueling kinetic tunes of radical incandescence. But there is only so much energy one can expend on the vanguard, living in a town that often felt like a frat house suffused with regressive notions of race, sexuality, and decency. It all exhausted Barnes. They had, however, built a life there—a home, a family, a studio, a reputation. Could Barnes ever really exit?

The new Lady On The Cusp is not only a rapturous synthesis of most everything of Montreal has ever done but also Barnes’ final transmission from Athens, as they’re now a fresh Southern expatriate delighted to be living among the snowy peaks and progressive politics of southern Vermont. Written and recorded in the months when Barnes and partner, musician Christina Schneider, prepared to leave, Lady On The Cusp combines a keen reckoning with the past with hopeful glimpses of the future, all clad in Barnes’ purposefully scattershot pop kaleidoscopes. The glittering trauma confrontation of “PI$$ PI$$,” the devotional R&B surrealist fantasy of “Soporific Cell,” the nuevo jazz lamentation of “Sea Mines That Mr Gone”: These 10 tracks—funny and sad, sexy and brooding, playful and serious—find Barnes finding new paths ahead. Barnes is moving both from situations that felt suffocating and toward musical ideas that feel evermore freeing.

Barnes and Schneider met nearly seven years ago, when of Montreal and Schneider’s Locate S,1, shared a tour. They fell in love on the road, and she relocated to Athens to begin their life together there. Barnes had certainly contemplated leaving the South but worried about the existential anxieties: Where would they go, for instance, and how would they make friends wherever that was? Easier just to stay in place, right? But the couple began visiting Vermont together, slowly seeing every season in the state where Schneider had gone to school. Barnes imagined another way to exist. What’s more, Schneider—whose own band was in part a vehicle for confronting childhood damage—encouraged Barnes to engage with the wreckage of their past, to grow beyond it in a way they admit they never had. “Christina has been extremely helpful,” Barnes says with more than a touch of relief, “in realizing that who you’ve been doesn’t make you who you are.”

“2 Depressed 2 Fuck” was the first song to emerge for Lady On The Cusp, the despair of its title and hook speaking as much to modern intergenerational malaise as any specific encounter. It begins with busted drums and electronic gashes, but Barnes slowly twists those caustic noises into a buoyant gem where the refrain lingers like a warm spring dream. Likewise, “PI$$ PI$$” uses the flotsam of past trauma as a springboard into a thundering dance jam about leaving that shit behind, about discarding “the Amygdala hijack furies” that plant us in emotional concrete. Barnes dreams of the personal frontier of Vermont in the Byrds-like beauty “Rude Girl On Rotation,” referencing not only the lush forests of the Green Mountain State but also a new neighbor who loves just intonation and the possibilities it presents. And the brilliant “Soporific Cell” is an unbridled and infectious love song, Barnes’ lissome falsetto offering up every bit of themselves to Christina and their life together. “I’m prepared to make an everyday beast of myself,” Barnes vows over sashaying guitars and splashing cymbals, “only for you.”

Barnes has always been fond of linguistic tricks, of Montreal’s catalog loaded with alliteration, puns, and florid phrases that dare you to tease out a meaning for yourself. But the two-part finale of Lady On The Cusp levels up in that regard, as Barnes slides into the amniotic haze of dream language for the two-part finale. They compiled “Poetry Surf” by cutting together words and ideas found in books by Ezra Pound and James Joyce or life at large, so that “chryselephantine chiaroscuro cerements [are] unearthed.” The track is a devilish whirlwind, Barnes delighting in these games over a martial beat and vertiginous keys. As the song slams into “Genius in the Wind,” the bass strutting in endless circles now, Barnes sings that “Unwittingly temporalist scorched earth is radio violence,” seeming to set up another delirious round of wordplay. But listen closely, and notice that it is instead a pledge of allegiance—to follow someone into the darkness of their life and hopefully come out better on the other side, with some sex and music and fun along the way. All of this perfectly coils together for the infectious “Yung Hearts Bleed Free,” a Bootsy Collins-influenced, self-deprecating ode to Barnes’ heroes—“sex maniacs” and “drug-addled creeps,” all—that indulges in freedom and fetish. It is candid, too, about the doubts and shortcomings of any life lived fully.

Nostalgia is not Barnes’ thing, never really has been. While of Montreal’s peers from the mid-’00s indie bloom have often circled back for seemingly endless reissues, reunions, and retreads, Barnes mostly hasn’t, choosing instead to press for novel ways to make the kind of jubilant but tumultuous tunes they have long loved. With its views of the past not as a crutch but as a cage, its nods to what’s next, and sounds that tinker with the idea of what it means to make pop at all, Lady On The Cusp is a compelling reintroduction to of Montreal—a project that has never stalled but has here found and used several new wellsprings of inspiration, all at once.

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