For a decade, Of Montreal have provided a steady soundtrack for the naive, sugar-rush lover. Leader Kevin Barnes has consistently melded '60s psychedelic and chamber pop influences to produce a dense, classic sound and, arming each album with a unifying concept, an adventurous lyrical whimsy. With a growing focus on electronic instruments and leaner arrangements, his last few albums have proven increasingly difficult to ignore, but the newest release is an entirely different animal.
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, a white-funk opus laden with harrowingly personal lyrics, is a risky adventure that thrills beyond expectations. Bouncing, melodic bass lines swim in kitchen-sink instrumentation, driven by insistent hand-claps and smoothed with intricate harmonies. The buzzing synthesizers of the baroque "Suffer for Fashion" – an instant, irresistible hit – and "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethian Curse" carry into the simple slow-burn of "Gronlandic Edit."
Though calling upon Midnight Vultures-era Beck for musical amusement, Barnes's lyrics exhibit all of the stages of his real-life break-up and breakdown: denial, self-medication, depressed cynicism, and pale efforts at emotional rescue. The disturbed Prince-meets-Queen histrionics in "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" and "Labyrinthian Pop" demand an ass-shake that carries over into the sub-Franz Ferdinand disco of "She's a Rejector." Goofy song titles and a 12-minute clunker track notwithstanding, the story compels throughout and ends with feeble optimism. No longer weighed down by twee music and cutesy lyrics, Of Montreal have finally transcended the Beach Boys inspiration to create a bitter, vibrant, and eminently danceable masterpiece. - Jeff Kozlowicki