Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Better Late Than Never: Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna

of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
(2007, Polyvinyl Records)
Grade: 89.8

"A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger" (mp3)

If you've been following this blog since its inception (the original inception, not the deluxe re-issue you've been perusing for the past month), you may recall a post where I served up my feelings on some of the latest songs to hit the internet, including the Shins, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands, and Of Montreal. You may also remember that the overall mood of the post was not very positive. Here's what I had to say about Of Montreal in particular:

"The new Of Montreal is very much like their other albums in how some songs sound great and others are skippable. I'll probably like it more after seeing them
live in February, at least that has been the case in the past. Seeing Of Montreal live is more fun than listening to them at home anyway."

Looking back on that quote, I admit I am a little embarrassed that I allowed myself to post such a gut reaction, especially knowing full well I would eventually like the album. To quote one of Kevin Barnes' many insightful lyrics found within Hissing Fauna's manic musical textures, "The past is a grotesque animal, and in its eyes you see how completely wrong you can be." Despite my embarrassment, I stand by my post. It was, if nothing else, a snapshot of my feelings, even if those feelings lasted just one day. Besides, if there's one quality I find most appealing about a person, it's honesty, which is undoubtedly the reason I was able to finally get into Hissing Fauna several months after its release.

On Hissing Fauna, Kevin Barnes cleans his proverbial closet, the bedroom, the bathroom, and then finds time to rearrange the furniture. The lyrics on Hissing Fauna go beyond unflinching honesty; this album is perhaps the no-holds-barred cage match of soul cleansing, confessing albums. Despite its candor, at times the album proves ambiguous. Barnes is no dummy -- he knows that the best stories often mix fact and fiction with relative ease. Some examples, in no particular order: Kevin Barnes as the violent, malicious, bitter ex-lover ("She's a Rejector"); a detached husband drowning in his own misery ("A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger"); a man pleading with his antidepressants to, in some ways, not do the job they're prescribed for ("Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse"); a man with the realization that the biggest mistake he's ever made was marrying the woman he loves ("The Past is a Grotesque Animal"); and a soul-searching, bi-curious, African-American soul singer ("Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider," "Faberge Falls for Shuggie"). If this all sounds a bit messy, that's because it is. In real life, Kevin Barnes was separating from his wife while, as he puts it, spending the winter "on the verge of a total breakdown" in his wife's native country, Norway. In other words, his life was a fucking mess. This album, more than any I've heard in quite some time, is a prime example of art imitating life.

Another fascinating aspect of listening to Hissing Fauna is the evolution of Of Montreal, both lyrically and musically. Barnes still throws in his Lit course quips here and there, and his sentimental side gets a flash now and then, but never before before has he exposed so many other sides of himself. Likewise, his pop music sensibilities have expanded to the point that even Of Montreal's 2004 release Satanic Panic in the Attic sounds like a completely different person might have written it.

Still, this album could have very easily been a train wreck from the beginning, but Barnes, ten years after the first Of Montreal release, appears to have finally reached his creative peak. Sure, it would be easy to point out the album's obvious leanings to Prince and David Bowie, but this album is no mere imitator. Hissing Fauna stands on its own two legs very well, and while only time will tell what the masses think, I envision this album standing the test of time and eventually ranking with the likes of Prince and Bowie instead of constantly being compared to them. Hissing Fauna may be ugly at times, but it's still a snapshot deserving of a spot in the glam/flamboyant rock family album.

September 5, 2007
(Edited with love by Femme Fatale)

1 comment:

Mandy said...

I love this album so much. I hadn't heard any of their earlier stuff though so I didn't have anything to go off.
I still had to choose NMH for the poll though.