In January of 2006, I had the privilege of being able to see Of Montreal, my absolute favorite band, live. But something was wrong. The band was great, the music was fantastic, but something was terribly, inexplicably wrong. While the band was playing one of their songs from 2005's "The Sunlandic Twins," two teenage girls who looked like they were more suited for a Britney Spears concert jumped on stage and started "skank-dancing" and kept it up for the duration of the song. I thought to myself, "apparently you can dance like that to anything now." But then I realized that perhaps Of Montreal, a band who has long relied on Kevin Barnes' ability to craft intricate, delusional stories and turn them in to equally difficult songs, had become way too accessible for its own good. Don't get me wrong, "The Sunlandic Twins" was a fantastic album, and a huge achievement for Of Montreal, but maybe they took it a bit too far. I can see a promiscuous 16-year-old dancing to "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games," but not to "Niki Coco and the Invisible Tree." Something was wrong. The Of Montreal I've loved for years was finally tainted by the irrepressible image of two underage girls dancing like a couple of strippers. To redeem themselves, Of Montreal had to do something drastic. They had to make an album that combined the best of their new sound, with the best of their old sound. Fortunately, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" does just that! Once again, Of Montreal is back on top!
The lead-off track on the album is "Suffer for Fashion," a song I had the opportunity of hearing live the last time the band came through my town. The song gets the energy going, and it never really dies down after that. It sounds like it could've been ripped right off of "The Sunlandic Twins," yet it's more frantic and crazy than anything that album ever presented. This song runs head-on with the next, "Sink the Seine," the shortest song on the album, and one I wish could have been much longer. The song begins with Barnes singing "La, la, la" in a way that is reminiscent of the band's more carefree albums like "The Gay Parade." Though it's only a minute long, it's one of my favorite tracks on the album, if only for the nostalgia factor alone.
This carefree song is followed up by one of the most depressing songs Of Montreal has ever made. In "Cato as a Pun" Barnes laments, "I can't even pretend that you are my friend" and "Are you far too depressed now even to answer the phone?" On that note, "Hissing Fauna" is by far the most personally introspective album that Kevin Barnes has ever made. There's hardly a song on the album that isn't about the artist. This is a big step for a band that has become famous for their whimsical songs about necrophilia ("Chrissy Kiss the Corpse"), fun-loving nuns, and the aforementioned invisible tree. But Barnes and Co. manage to pull this leap off quite flawlessly. Despite the album's insistence on serious subject matter, the music itself is often light-hearted and fun! If any band could pull this off, it's Of Montreal.
The next two songs on the album take this theme and run with it. "Heimsdalgate Like a Promethean Curse" is a song that is about the unfortunate repercussions of drug abuse and "Gronlandic Edit" is about being depressed. Barnes ponders, "I guess it would be nice to give my heart to a god. But which one do I choose?" The song features a great bassline and is a song that will get your toes tapping in no time. Getting down to a song about depression? You gotta love this band! "A Sentence of Sort In Kongsvinger" is largely about the same subject matter, but is one of the most accessible Of Montreal songs ever!
In many ways, the album is divided into two parts around the next song, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," a 12-minute long song that sounds like it was ripped right out of Kevin Barnes' diary (assuming he has one). The album before this song is very introspective, but at the same time very accessible to pubescent girls. After this song, however, the album takes a much more bizarre turn. After the song comes to a close, listeners are greeted by some of the most peculiar music to ever be heard on an Of Montreal album. In many ways, it seems as if Kevin Barnes leaves the "grotesque animal" behind with this song, and starts anew with less-serious subject matter and a fresh new sound.
The first song listeners are greeted with after the draining 12-minute song is "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider" a song in which Barnes says, "Eva, I'm sorry, but you will never have me...I need a lover with soul power, and you ain't got no soul power!" It's an entirely different feel than what we've been treated to up until this point. But it's very refreshing. The next track is my absolute favorite song on the album. "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" is the strangest Of Montreal I've heard. To be quite honest, I have no idea what Kevin is talking about in this song, though I can only assume it's about ecstasy. Suffice to say, the song is crazy. It features a thumping bass line, ridiculous vocals, and so many small strokes of genius that you can't help but smile.
"Labyrinthian Pomp" has Barnes asking, "How you wanna take my style when I am so superior?" over a ridiculously funky guitar riff, while "She's A Rejector" finds the artist saying "There's the girl that left me bitter, won't you pay some other girl to just walk up to her and hit her?" Both songs are terrific and walk the line between accessibility and inaccessibility. Although, whether the average person on the street would find something to like in a song where the singer thinks about hitting a girl (even though he says "He can't") is really anyone's guess. From there, the album wraps up nicely with "We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling." A song that really wraps a chaotic album up in the most peaceful way possible. It's beautiful.
Overall, "Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?" can be a lot to handle at times. It's one of the most confusing albums that Of Montreal has ever put out. That's saying a lot considering that they also released "Coquelicot Asleep In the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse." At the same time, however, listening to the album in its entirety is one of the most rewarding experiences that an Of Montreal fan could ever ask for. Sure, some of its more difficult moments like "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" may throw off some of the many many fickle fans that they gained since "The Sunlandic Twins." But for those of us who are willing to stick it out and squeeze every last ounce of magic from this album, the experience is indescribable, and entirely gratifying. I'll go ahead and say it. "Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?" is the best, most complete, most satisfying album that Of Montreal has ever made. Thanks.
Recommended for real Of Montreal fans, and for those two girls who were dancing on stage. Hopefully it will deter them from coming to the next Of Montreal show. Hopefully.
1. "Sink the Seine"
2. "Heimsdalgate Like a Promethean Curse"
3. "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider"
4. "Faberge Falls for Shuggie"
5. "We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling"
9 out of 10 Stars