I can’t help but feel that, in most circles, Kevin Barnes isn’t given his due. His band, Of Montreal, has earned itself a certain level of popularity in recent years, but I wonder how many people actually take Barnes seriously as an artist. With the pomp and swagger of his persona and the flamboyance of both his music and stage appearance so apparent, Of Montreal is often dismissed as a “fun” band. There are worse crimes, but it’s an injustice all the same: Underneath all the faux-glamour is an artist with a proven knack for writing great pop songs and, more important, great lyrics. With Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes’s most personal and emotional album to date, may begin to open people’s eyes to that fact.
Simply put, the album chronicles a year in Barnes’s life. The first half was written during an especially dark time for him: A temporary move to Norway didn’t work out and the subsequent return to Athens, Georgia put his marriage on the rocks; his wife ultimately returned to Oslo with their infant daughter. The resulting spiral into depression is played out through the album’s first six tracks. “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” begins with “I’m in a crisis, I need help. Come on, mood, shift back to good again.” Despite the gloomy subject matter, this half is made up primarily of the same sort of indie-disco tunes present 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins. It’s almost as if Barnes were writing songs to try to trick himself into feeling better.
The album’s lynchpin is the eleven-minute-plus confessional “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal.” It’s a soul-searching affair that’s almost uncomfortable to listen to given that such raw, unflinching introspection is unfolding so publicly. The key to the song lies in one line: “No matter where we are, we’re always touching by underground wires.”
Barnes and his wife, Nina, eventually reconciled, and the latter half of the album reflects that. Whether it’s the off-hand dismissal of a woman’s advances on “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” or the brag-fest that is “Labyrinthian Pomp,” it’s clear that by the end of the album, Barnes is more than content with married life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this doesn’t necessarily translate to better art: The latter songs lose some of their appeal without the juxtaposition between sound and word, but undoubtedly marital bliss in exchange for a slightly top-heavy album is a trade-off worth making.
“Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” MP3: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com/media/prc-124-04.MP3