At one point on “it’s different for girls,” the buoyant standout from of Montreal’s 14th album, Innocence Reaches, founder Kevin Barnes sings, “Though some women are demons, all of them are God.” This uncomfortable, sometimes nasty, sometimes sensual sentiment is all over the album, which largely chronicles Barnes’ affairs and disappointments as a single person after the end of his marriage two years ago. The suffering he’s gone through seems to have paid off—it’s one of his most focused and rewarding records in years.
Dating isn’t the only new thing Barnes is trying out. Though songs like “gratuitous abscesses” draw on typical of Montreal inspirations, like ‘60s pop, much of the music here is breaks new ground. Barnes listened to electronic producers like Jack U and Arca while writing these songs, and electro-pop opener “let’s relate” and the EDM-inspired “trashed exs” reveal the effects of those explorations. It’s not hard to imagine either tracks strategically placed in an underground DJ set.
Like all of Barnes work, the real meat of this album is its confessional, unflinching subject matter. On “def pacts,” the effect is devastating: “It’s so tedious watching someone you care about keep failing themselves,” he sings, presumably about an emotionally unstable past lover. It’s one of the album’s most sonically interesting songs, a five-minute suite that alternates between minimal percussion, funky bass, and misty, near-whispered vocals nestled in swaying psychedelic pop.
In a way, Barnes is the indiepop Kanye West: his lyrics mercilessly expose his self-hatred and his tendency to judge others. It’s what makes him endlessly fascinating as an artist, two decades into his career. “To survive in this world, you don’t have to become a parasite, you don’t have to be so mercenary, so cruel,” he sings on “def pacts.” Then he admits, “I’m just now learning this myself.”