And yet, even with so much creative output, Of Montreal had not managed to break into the mainstream until the release of their seventh studio album, 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins. Branching out from the work of previous albums like Satanic Panic in the Attic and Aldhills Arboretum, Sunlandic’s electronic-heavy tracks like “So Begins Our Alabee” earned Of Montreal an expanded following. Further adding to the band’s fame, “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)” (also off Sunlandic) was later re-recorded by Barnes for use in an advertising campaign with the Aussie-themed tchochtke-joint, Outback Steakhouse. Never let it be said that pop music does not make room for strange bedfellows.
But positive press and growing popularity seem to have had anything but a negative effect on Of Montreal. Barnes is still pumping out the tunes like no tomorrow, and Of Montreal is still doing to pop music what an orgy does to straightforward sex: making it crazy, hectic, thrilling, and—generally speaking—exhausting. Imagine, if you will, the mutual aural pleasure of acid trip psychedelia and disco-era grooves while under the influence of jubilant, sugar-coated lines of twee. Pan over, and you'll find the estranged offspring of Wall of Sound™ synth doing a reverse-cowgirl while fondling pop-rock’s buzz and stroking its jangly, six-string riffs, all next to a vigorous ménage à trois of hand-clappin’, booty-poppin’ percussion, low-hanging bass lines, and lilting, effects-drenched vocals. Now, imagine sustaining all of that—plus countless other pornographic positions with which I am either unfamiliar or simply not quite clever enough to use as musical metaphors—for a full fifty-one minutes.
It sounds like a rollicking good time, and there’s no question that you’ll be entertained and/or fascinated by Of Montreal’s pulsing rhythms, easy-riding riffs, and touching lyrics. But it’s a bit unrealistic to expect a full hour of non-stop pop-rock. Hell, even the professionals get to take breaks for water (and water-based lubricant). So it is with Of Montreal’s newest release, the quixotically-titled Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?—it expends a lot of energy during the first half-hour, but the following twenty minutes are little more than a pleasant afterglow.
“Suffer for Fashion” eschews musical foreplay for an up-front thrust of pop-rock leading into a three-minute run of whirling synth, upbeat bass, bright guitar riffs, and glimmering vocals. It’s the first track of what feels like a three-part song cycle, with the drum machine, drone, and la-la-la backups of “Sink the Seine” sandwiched between “Suffer” and the key-fueled melodies and screeching guitar accents of “Cato as a Pun.” Next up is the single-turned-video, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” an eerie exposition of bipolar mood-shifts and self-medication: “Chemicals, don’t flatten my mind. Chemicals, don’t mess me up this time. Know you bait me way more than you should, and it’s just like you to hurt me when I’m feeling good.”
“Gronlandic Edit” swaggers forward with a groove-tastic bass line melded to a head-bobbing beat of synth’d percussion and delayed organ-like keys, all as back-up to dense vocals that lend themselves to self-harmonizing and cut-short rounds. With little space between, “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger” busts out with toyish snare and a remarkably danceable combination of funk-styled bass and psych keys, all while Barnes recounts a depressing winter spent in Norway (during which he recorded the majority of Hissing Fauna).
As in previous Of Montreal albums, Barnes’s whimsical wordsmithery often waxes abstract, indirectly dealing with the harsh realities of personal issues through fantastical imagery and quirkily endearing metaphors. “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” is the heaviest of these tracks on Hissing Fauna, and its alluring twelve minutes of watery bass and electro beats runs through the emotional gauntlet of Barnes’s separation from his wife (the two have since reconciled) while calling to mind the work of playwright Edward Albee. “I’m flunking out, I’m flunking out, I’m gone, I’m just gone,” groans Barnes, “But at least I author my own disaster.” As the seventh track, “The Past” is an oddly poignant centerpiece to Hissing Fauna, but it nevertheless follows Of Montreal’s basic formula of enticingly upbeat pop wrapped around oft-morbid themes.
“Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” tries its damnedest to follow the hauntingly open magnificence of “The Past,” but its droning synth backdrop and quirky tale of bisexual art-school romance seems resigned to its position as the first part of Hissing Fauna’s Freytagian declination from toe-curling climax to so-so dénouement. “Faberge Falls for Shuggie” sounds like a remixed/misplaced Scissor Sisters cut, its disco beat and falsetto vox thrown in with a breakdown of keys, synth, and canned drums. “Labyrinthian Pomp” follows suit with a 70’s-era sing-along chorus, while “She’s a Rejector” supplies some buzzsaw riffs, change-up rhythms, and Barnes’s vocal tricks. Remarkably, “We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling” ends the album on a high note, establishing its primary melody with an extended intro of chiming synth, brassy percussion, up-front bass, and subdued guitar arpeggios. Lyrics are sparse by comparison, but as evocative as ever. “Sometimes we’re not legible,” coos Barnes, “but we’re the same strange animal. Let them say our love is peculiar—don’t care.”
Overall, Of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is a pleasant pop album, though notably uneven. Then again, after expending so much energy during the first half of Hissing Fauna, it might be asking too much of Barnes to continue the same manic pace for a full hour. The man’s only human, after all.
Audio Reviews (February 11th, 2007)
Tags: audio, review, of montreal, hissing fauna are you the destroyer, polyvinyl record co.