Though Kevin Barnes had always used Of Montreal to build a strange, often beautiful world of complex personal thoughts and visions, his albums grew increasingly manic (musically and psychologically) throughout the mid-2000s. Over the project's lengthy career, Barnes had taken his muse from sweetly lo-fi bedroom twee beginnings to bouncy disco-pop heights, landing in some bizarre, wounded state of indie R&B dementia by the time of albums like 2010's False Priest, with his lyrics growing increasingly raw and scattered. 2012's almost impenetrably dense Paralytic Stalks found Barnes' hyper-personal self-analysis and quickly changing psychedelic pop reaching a saturation point for many listeners, and reviews were mixed. Lousy with Sylvianbriar is a complete about-face from the cast of multiple personalities and sonic mood swings of Barnes' recent past, offering a refreshingly straightforward collection of songs under the unlikely influence of '60s and '70s FM radio roots rockers like Dylan, Neil Young and the Stones. Instead of the usual process of Barnes playing all the instruments himself and layering his own vocals with endless digital recording, the sessions for LwS took place in an almost entirely live analog studio setting, with session musicians quickly working on their parts and going direct to tape. The resultant recordings have the same loose yet lucid feeling as Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, or early albums by the Band; the songs deep in a classic rock vein while still touched with Barnes' ever-obtuse lyrical spirals. Beginning with the slide guitar twang of album-opener "Fugitive Air," almost all of the indie-electro postures that defined the band before vanish, replaced with a Mick Jagger sway circa "Jigsaw Puzzle," updated with Barnes' penchant for vivid lyrical imagery equal parts gorgeous and grotesque. This rootsy swaggering continues on the Dylanesque "Belle Glade Missionaries" and "Hegira Émigré," matching greasy Highway 61 Revisited boogie rock rhythms with glowing harmonies and deceptively dark lyrics. Vocalist Rebecca Cash shows up throughout the album, lending bright lead vocals to the Emmylou Harris/Gram Parsons-modeled country ballad "Raindrop in My Skull." Barnes taps into these unexpected influences without submitting to them completely, trying each one on like a flimsy costume not quite capable of covering the core elements of his songwriting personality. The unsettling imagery, buttery basslines, and meandering key changes that have been Of Montreal staples since the start, fit surprisingly well into the dusty traditional rock framework of LwS, offering a breath of fresh air from the pleasant but convoluted rush of the past several albums. Swapping out the sonic and mental clutter for a host of centered, unconfused rock tunes is a curveball move, for sure, but the end product is the most memorable, lasting, and relatable albums in Of Montreal's extensive catalog, and easily one of the best.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas