MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The band is called Of Montreal, but they're really of Athens, Georgia. Actually, they're barely a they. The only constant of the group's 13-year career has been leader Kevin Barnes. He wrote all the songs and played most of the instruments on Of Montreal's new album. It's called "False Priest."
Our music critic Robert Christgau explains why he's listening.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Of Montreal has now put out 13 albums. In the early aughts, these albums served mainly to remind me how little I care for arch vocals and DIY prog. But in 2007, Kevin Barnes grabbed my attention with a song that seemed to go on forever. On an album entitled, unfortunately, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?"
(Soundbite of song, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal")
Mr. KEVIN BARNES (Of Montreal): (Singing) Performance breakdown and I don't wanna hear it. I'm just not available. Things could be different, but they're not.
CHRISTGAU: My pick hit is called "The Past is a Grotesque Animal." It lasts 12 minutes without repeating a line as Barnes details a painful and impassioned romance that begins with a shared attraction to Georges Bataille's S&M cult novel "Story of the Eye." There's no chorus. The song is its own hook, obsessively intensifying the same riff in an ecstatic build finished off by three minutes of oo-oo-oos and instrumental up, up and away. It was so powerful it made me care about two over-the-top Georges Bataille fans. But not until two releases later did Kevin Barnes hold my interest from the beginning of an album to the end.
(Soundbite of song, "I Feel Ya' Strutter")
Mr. BARNES: (Singing) I see you, girlfriend. I got so lucky with you. Yes, I feel you strutter. I got so lucky with you. So freaked out and depressed. But now, I see how I was so blessed. So blessed with you, girlfriend.
CHRISTGAU: Jon Brion of Fiona Apple and Kanye West fame co-produced "False Priest." Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles volunteered cameos. And perhaps most impressive, the songs have not just tunes but basslines.
Listen for the bass on the third track, "Coquet Coquette." But notice as well that Barnes is no longer feeling so lucky.
(Soundbite of song, "Coquet Coquette")
Mr. BARNES: (Singing) Coquet Coquette, you know, I won't forget how you hurt me twice to prove you were cynical. Oh, my Coquet, you are the death. You are the pinnacle.
CHRISTGAU: And so it goes on "False Priest." Barnes is still tormented by a love object we're free to assume is his wife, Nina. But they have plenty of good times too.
On a song called "Sex Karma," Solange Knowles plays the love object.
(Soundbite of song, "Sex Karma")
Ms. SOLANGE KNOWLES (Singer): (Singing) I know that you wanna play, run and touch my everything 'cause I look like a playground to you. Playground.
Mr. BARNES: (Singing) Close your eyes and count to three, I'll kiss you where I shouldn't be 'cause you look like a playground to me. Playground. You are my only luxury item.
Ms. KNOWLES: (Signing) Anyone try to steal you, I'll fight...
CHRISTGAU: So, A, "False Priest" is easily Of Montreal's most accessible album even though, B, "False Priest" has more than its fair share of ups and downs.
What tips the balance for me is that it ends with a humanist sermon. True, Barnes doesn't preach in human guise. He sounds like a computer talking.
(Soundbite of song, "You Do Mutilate?")
Mr. BARNES: (Singing) When will certain people realize an afterlife is nothing to live for, nothing to die for, nothing to fight for?
CHRISTGAU: Afterlife is nothing to live for? Nothing to die for? I'll take it.
SIEGEL: The latest album from the band Of Montreal is called "False Priest." Our music critic is Robert Christgau.