Iâ€™ve never really understood the psyche rock tag when applied to Of Montreal. Kevin Barnes is such a succinct songwriter. His arrangements are meticulously composed and arranged, and he incorporates so many styles in his complicated pop tunes that downgrading any of it to psyche rock would be an injustice thatâ€™s not only inaccurate but also short-sighted. The whole Elephant 6/psyche rock thing speaks more to the looser, jammier tendencies of bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Elf Power. I suppose guilty by association.
With Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, Barnes delves even further into his quirky world of surreality, but this time his thematic focus is inward- the dissolution of his marriage, to be more specific. Now more than ever, it would be next to impossible to lob that old psyche rock tag at him and make any sense. Barnes mines everything from disco to funk to synth-rock to glam with his androgynous, pitch-perfect voice. The production is a mind fuck of its own, especially on headphones. Itâ€™s a claustrophobic, one-man show, as Barnes multi-tracks his voice with layer upon layer of harmonies and altered tones. It almost sounds like a computer generated voice, almost too â€œperfect.â€
This is Barnes at his lowest emotionally but strongest creatively. Itâ€™s a clichÃ© that pain begets great art, but this record holds fast to that idiom. The sound of Kevin Barnes purging his demons is a bizarre thing to behold. His lyrics are shockingly personal and disarmingly poetic but laced with enough weirdness to scare the frat boys away. â€œSuffer for Fashionâ€ is the best glam-rock send-up Barnes has ever penned. Itâ€™s astoundingly catchy yet unnerving at the same time. Barnesâ€™ vocal histrionics could potentially be off-putting if they werenâ€™t so damn infectious.
The album is centered around an epic, 11-minute dance-rock drone called â€œThe Past Is a Grotesque Animalâ€, wherein Barnes walks us through his labyrinthine diary. Yes, such indulgences seem awfully self-involved and obnoxiously pretentious at first, but, again, Barnes isnâ€™t without skills to entertain. He keeps you interested in the storyline with bizarre, eyebrow raising lyrical tangents: â€œBut you know no matter where we are/
We’re always touching by underground wires/I’ve explored you with the detachment of an analyst/But most nights we’ve raided the same kingdoms/And none of our secrets are physical now.â€
Paring such devastating despair with hook-filled, synth-rock anthems is Barnesâ€™ genius here. Heâ€™s created an album thatâ€™s deeply personal yet commercially savvy. Itâ€™s a mass of contradictions. Music this dark and private reaching a mass audience almost seems callous and wrong. Yet, there are so many potential singles on this record (â€œSuffer for Fashionâ€, â€œSheâ€™s A Rejectorâ€, â€œGronlandic Editâ€). So many memorable synth lines and candy-coated choruses. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? is going to be hard to top, not only for Barnes but for anyone this year.