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Album Reviews: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? by Of MontrealOf Montreal's profile has been on the rise in recent years, thanks to poppy, dance-happy gems like 2004's Satanic Panic in the Attic and 2005's The Sunlandic Twins; the latter was easily the band's best-selling album. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? may not continue that trend because it isn't quite so sunshiny, but song-for-song, it is the best of the impressive trio of albums.
Main man Kevin Barnes, who does just about everything on Of Montreal albums, has an unusual power to make scenesters shake their asses like ravers. He assumes an alter ego and wears costumes, makeup and glitter onstage -- and pulls it off with such panache that not too many people roll their eyes; he has little to do with indie champions of recent years, and more to do with character-constructing showmen like David Bowie.
But the inspiration behind Hissing Fauna takes a long step into the shadows and remains there; instead of the bliss of "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)" or cheeky narratives like "My British Tour Diary," we get songs written from autobiographical places of deep depression and suffocating isolation. This reaches a fever pitch on the brooding twelve-minute electro-pop centerpiece "The Past is a Grotesque Animal." Here, Barnes becomes unusually unhinged, as he seems to simultaneously fight for a relationship and kiss it goodbye. "I'm so touched by your goodness / You make me feel so criminal," he sings, while the song's electronic heartbeat stays quickened, and a repetitive "ooh-ooh-ooh" synthesizer sound makes the listener feel like Arthur fighting his way through zombies to save the princess in the old Nintendo chestnut Ghosts n' Goblins.
While "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" is somewhat polarizing because of its length and agitated emotional state, other standouts are more immediate and universal (despite the penchant for tongue-tripping song titles). Barnes has said that he saw the poppy partytime music that dominates Hissing Fauna -- particularly its essentially faultless front half -- as a means of exorcising or at least distracting his demons. "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" bemoans the failure of chemicals to pull Barnes out of his funk, even while the chipper music sounds like a chemical high itself. "Gronlandic Edit" lays a restrained disco beat beneath Barnes' lamentations of fake indie stars and "losers" in the church. There is no refuge -- except in the music itself.
It's been about a decade since Barnes and Of Montreal released their debut, Cherry Peel, and this veteran status has led some to seemingly believe that the band is on its last legs, with one prominent review referring to Hissing Fauna as a great "late-period" album, as though the 32-year-old Barnes was in the same boat as Dylan or Bowie. Instead, there's every indication that Of Montreal have plenty of shape-shifting, ass-shaking wonder ahead of them. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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