Of Montreal's 15th studio LP, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood follows an eclectic but synth-friendly album, Innocence Reaches, by nearly two years. Before that, 2015's Aureate Gloom took musical influence from '70s New York punk. Project leader Kevin Barnes continues a sudden but enthusiastic trend toward more synths here, on an album that was inspired by the '80s phenomenon of releasing extended dance mixes of pop singles, which one would only hear played in clubs. In a statement about the record, Barnes explained that he used the same drum sample packs across tracks to get a consistent and characteristic sound. While he also continues to abandon a practice of recording with a live band -- one that may have ended with Aureate Gloom -- he is joined on the album by some key long-distance contributors. Zac Colwell (woodwinds, synths, percussion) is a former collaborator whose judiciously placed saxophone reinforces the '80s effect here, and touring bandmembers JoJo Glidewell (synths, keys) and Clayton Rychlik (drums) have been part of Of Montreal's recording core for much of the 2010s. Still, as Barnes is often wont to do, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood doesn't sound quite like anything they've done prior, once one looks beyond its distinctively serpentine quality and Barnes' calling-card loquaciousness. With reference to the latter, the album presents six over-five-minute-long dance-funk tracks with titles like "Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia" and "Plateau Phase/No Careerism No Corruption." Lyrics grapple with sociopolitical and societal topics like intersectionality, gentrification, and online-only encounters -- to name a few from the slinky opening track alone -- as well as sex, drugs, and music. On "Plateau," he makes hip-grinding choruses out of neurotic lines like "If we put our ear to the ceiling/We can hear the multiverse seeding/We can hear the simulation wheezing...." Accompanying arrangements are generally dense but melodic, often capturing a certain basement-club je ne sais quoi. Taken together, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood offers convoluted yet catchy dance-rock that lures with flamboyant basslines while reflecting a dancing-while-anxious Zeitgeist.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson