Most B-sides collections are a songwriter’s way of clearing house, artistically speaking, an excuse to release their weirdest ideas that wouldn’t fit in the context of a proper studio album. For of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, the opposite is true: While the polarizing funk-pop freak’s most recent trio of albums (2008′s Skeletal Lamping, 2010′s False Priest, this year’s Paralytic Stalks) have blurred the line between traditional songs and nightmarish, existential experimentation, his new rarities compilation, Daughter of Cloud, is – strangely enough – his most coherent collection of music in many years.
The 17-track set blends unheard rarities and previously-released B-sides, dating back to 2007′s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes’s last truly great album of pop songs. There’s still plenty of schizophrenic sonic horseplay: “Obviousatonicnuncio” is the musical equivalent of an ice-cream headache, cramming an entire career worth of outlandish ideas (nails-on-chalkboard spoken-word bits, chirpy vocal operatics) into a three-minute span that feels like two hours. But elsewhere, Daughter of Cloud is often thrilling – even when the lyrics are cringe-worthy: “Come play with my erection/ Can’t you see that it’s standing at attention?,” Barnes sings on “Jan Doesn’t Like It.” The campy porno-drill sergeant act wears thin quickly, but it’s backed by a hypnotic electro-pop groove. “Georgie’s Lament” is dizzying, but unlike so many of his recent cut-and-paste clusterfucks, it isn’t gag-worthy – even as the track morphs from lounge-y keyboard soul to prog-funk to the warped singalong of “My cock is so torn up about it.” Meanwhile, the riff-driven “Tender Fax” harkens back to the tuneful glory days of Sunlandic Twins. Few modern songwriters are this fearless with their freakiness. But Daughter of Cloud is a much-needed reminder of this indie outcast’s pure pop strengths.