Having enjoyed the albums Cherry Peel
and The Gay Parade
for their charming Beatles
impressions and impossibly cute stories in every song, I chose to play catch-up
and hear something by Of Montreal
that had been released in this century
. As soon as the first track to 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
kicked in, I was sure I had made a mistake. I consider myself open-minded though, so I listened on. What I thought of it was, "this is so fucking gay
," followed immediately by "I love it!"
This is a totally different band from the Of Montreal I was beginning to love. This makes sense. There may have been a logical progression of musical styles during the eight-year, five-album gap between The Gay Parade and this one, but I haven't heard any of that material. The transition for me was jarring. Jovial Yellow Submarine-like carousing and frivolity had been replaced by an entirely new kind of frivolity. There is barely a sense of the Beatles' influence on the sound at all, something that fans of Cherry Peel in the nineties wouldn't have believed. What we have here is 80s-inspired synth-pop and disco.
The music conjures brightly coloured visions of glitter, spandex, fashion shows, and rich kids downing pills in oceans of gyrating false friends. The lyrics speak of the people of this flamboyant, isolated world, cut off from the dirty outside and desperately sugar-coating their unhappiness until everything looks perfect and fools even them. It's snobs buried in flashing blue and white lights, faking laughter under a canopy of cigarette smoke. It's those same people on the dancefloor, trying to shake off their identities and just exist in earnest for a minute. It's them fighting nightly battles with themselves, alternating from being convinced they've found true social perfection, and deciding to kill themselves. And doing it again and again, every night finding new methods of self-destruction, trying to burn out as quick as possible. It's a contest; blind and beautiful they are competing. Despite this, there is a strong sense of solidarity, as if recognizing that everyone involved is in the same boat. This concept of fellowship in a doomed existence comes up in the very first track:
If we've got to burn out, let's do it together
Let's all melt down together
The music itself could not be better suited to the words. Nearly every track is overly upbeat, full of dancing synthesizer and infectious beats, in such a way that you question its sincerity. Is the music just an extension of the lie of a glamourous life that the lyrics put forward? I think it is, and the perfect way to top it all off is Kevin Barnes' vocal delivery. Sometimes recalling The Beegees, and often The Cure, you hear the voice of someone out clubbing the day after their friend's funeral. There is intense sadness just barely concealed under the mask of the life of the party.
The album is a fairly long one for pop music, reaching nearly 56 minutes with thirteen tracks. At some points it feels like it's dragging on, and once you've got the point after the first couple songs you may not be interested in hearing the rest. However, one of the things Of Montreal does well is arrange albums. If you happen upon a song you aren't thrilled by, chances are you'll love the next one. For people who don't like the particular sound, listening to the whole thing is hard, especially the twelve-minute "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal" in the middle. If you really get what Barnes was after, you'll want to hear the whole thing all over again.
The highlight of the album is that track. It's by far the longest, and is the centerpiece of the whole collection, right in the middle of the list. Everything that precedes it is glossy and fake, and when "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal" arrives, Kevin Barnes finally gets around to being serious. He, or the narrator, drops all pretense and speaks from the heart, and it really does take twelve minutes to say it all. The song is filled with hard truths and realizations, with such lyrics as, "I fell in love with the first cute girl that I met," and "it's like we weren't made for this world, but I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." As a stand-alone track, its length works against it, but in context it is monumental, and definitely the climax of the album. The rest of the songs remain glum at first, but slowly begin to return to their earlier format, and the listener begins to forget that anything important ever happened.
1. Suffer for Fashion (2:58)
2. Sink the Seine (1:04)
3. Cato as a Pun (3:02)
4. Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse (3:18)
5. Gronlandic Edit (3:24)
6. A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger (4:56)
7. The Past Is a Grotesque Animal (11:53)
8. Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider (3:51)
9. Faberge Falls for Shuggie (4:31)
10. Labyrinthian Pomp (3:21)
11. She's a Rejector (4:02)
12. We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling (4:58)
13. Faberge Falls for Shuggie REMIX (4:39)
After really listening to this for a few times, you realize that the individual songs aren't outstanding. The piece of art, the album itself, is fantastic, but each song fools you into thinking it's better than it is. They achieve this because they are catchy, and all of them have one or two brief parts that reach the apex of what music is supposed to be: ceasing to be simple sensory stimulation and reaching that coveted plateau of pure emotion. These moments may be brief but they are in abundance, and overall make the album entirely worth it.
Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? - Of Montreal - 2007 - Polyvinyl