In a turbulent, ever-changing world, one of my greatest comforts is knowing that famed indie five-piece Of Montreal’s sound always remains entrenched in the sun-shiny realm of 60’s rock. I’m pretty sure there’s a law stating rock critics must mention Brian Wilson or The Beatles in every review. Even when Of Montreal started using electronic sounds on their 2004 masterpiece Satanic Panic in the Attic, the only question raised was how many times lead singer Kevin Barnes listened to Pet Sounds.
But something funny happened on 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins. Sure, the Georgia group still embraced the cheery psychedelic grooves of the flower-power decade, but Of Montreal was also turning the calendar to 1970, as a fair number of tracks on the album grooved to melodies more suited for the disco than a demonstration. So, on their latest long player Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, the burning question: Has Of Montreal forsaken 60’s rock for 70’s boogie?
The answer: sorta, kinda. Hissing Fauna isn’t a massive departure from The Sunlandic Twins, as the band balances out Beach Boys-esque pop with the more discotheque-friendly numbers, all with the eccentric charm expected from this group. Unlike their last album, Hissing Fauna is a much more consistent listen, as the group sounds more comfortable with the danceable numbers while still mastering the art of the pop-rock song.
Hissing Fauna’s first few tracks are dominated by what Of Montreal does best — the psychedelic pop number. Opener “Suffer for Fashion” glides through already-charted territory, guided by familiar guitar strums and synth flares while Barnes’ voice reaches Spencer Krug-levels at points. After a short poppy piece (thankfully, there are only two of on this album, compared to the plethora of interludes bogging down The Sunlandic Twins), the group slows it down on “Cato as a Pun,” a distortion-heavy screecher featuring lovely vocals from Barnes.
Aside from “Gronlandic Edit,” a track that tries to out-strut Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” but ends up falling awkwardly on the catwalk, the rest of Hissing Fauna’s front-half shines with two of the group’s best pieces. The bizarrely (but typically) titled “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” is moved by breezy piano notes and glistening synths. Barnes’ vocals make the drug-centric song shine, as he sounds like an early Fab Four when he croons the line “Come on chemicals.” More impressive is “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger,” Of Montreal’s drugged-out take on Babes in Toyland. In typical fashion, Barnes sings “I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown/ while living in Norway” while being joined by upbeat electronic surges and the cheery echo of his own voice. It’s one of Of Montreal’s most cheery pieces of sun-drenched pop, even if it has some of their more depressing lyrics.
At the center of Hissing Fauna is the album’s best cut and the group’s most ambitious song to date, “The Past is a Grotesque Animal.” Of Montreal has only ventured into double-digit track time once before, and that was a 17-minute piece consisting primarily of just a piano and one verse. The Elephant Six spin-off eschews both cheery pop and disco pomp for grinding rock anchored by melancholy “ohs” and “ahs.” Here, Barnes’ lyrics are at their most heartbroken. He angrily hisses “performance breakdown/ and I don’t want to hear it/ I’m just not available” before bitterly adding “things could be different/ but they’re not.” The band maintains this pessimistic pace for 11 minutes, never once trailing off or losing any of the song’s emotional edge. “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” is easily Hissing Fauna’s best track, and one of the finest they have ever penned.
The second half of the album focuses on the more danceable disco sound explored on The Sunlandic Twins, with mixed results. The opening moments of “Faberge Falls For Shuggie” sound like the Nintendo Wii’s main menu theme funneled through a vortex, but the song never develops into anything interesting, but rather comes off as a Midnight Vulture’sreject, complete with Barnes doing his best high-pitched Beck impersonation. “Labyrinthian Pomp,” as the name implies, centers on a slow-moving funk sound, but is boring after several seconds. Hissing Fauna’s clear second-half winner is “She’s A Rejector,” a guitar-centered jam alternating between soft and hard-rocking segments. The track comes together with Barnes’ screams of “I can’t!” The discoish tracks on Hissing Fauna are much better than similar songs on The Sunlandic Twins, but they still pale in comparison to Of Montreal’s usual poppy perfections.
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? doesn’t see Of Montreal moving in any drastic new directions, but rather showing off their already-perfected psychedelic song craft while simultaneously honing their body-shaking skills. The group’s latest isn’t their best, but a worthy and (as expected) weird addition to an already amazing discography.