A pity party that everyone wants to crash? That's exactly what Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes threw when his band released Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? earlier this year. Tackling everything from chemical dependence to a (since reconciled) split with his wife, Barnes's lyrics painted an appropriately complex emotional profile, veering from arrogantly despondent to battered and guilt-wracked. But like the work of some indie-rock showman, the album's relentlessly upbeat mix of funk and unadulterated pop never let the cracks show.[more:]
Although originally planned as a double album, Hissing Fauna was whittled down to its present form, and the newly released Icons, Abstract Thee EP presents five castoffs from the sessions. Not only is it full of the same pairings of visionary pop and theatrical self-loathing, it's also impossible to conceive of it as unattached to the LP, even if there are some points of departure, musically. "Du Og Meg" and "Voltaic Crusher/Undrum to Muted Da" are both more straightforward and unabashedly poppier than anything on Hissing Fauna, and "Derailments in a Place of Our Own" and "Miss Blonde Your Papa Is Failing" actually match Barnes's dour musings with fittingly down-tempo music.
In spite of these differences, though, Barnes's lyrical preoccupations are so consistent that Hissing Fauna echoes throughout these songs -- to the point that mirror-image lines crop up. For example, the sense of internal conflict in the line "Leave me/ don't leave me alone" from "Derailments" conjures the same anguished indecision of the LP's "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal," in which Barnes sings "I need you here/ and not here, too." "Voltaic Crusher" plays like an abstract, condensing all of the LP's suicidal hysteria into a concise two minutes, typified by lines like "I am a flaw, I'm a mistake/ I am faulty, I always break." Such lyrics would be insufferably cloying in the hands of most artists, but when Barnes imbeds them in saccharine pop, they become unnerving in their unblinking candor.
The EP's mission statement, though, is the nearly ten-minute-long "No Conclusion." Where Hissing Fauna's centerpiece, the even longer "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal," used its unswerving sprawl to gather intensity like some uninterrupted descent, "No Conclusion" cycles through a medley of repeated sections. Instead of metaphorizing a doomed relationship as a headlong sprint toward destruction, "No Conclusion" rewrites is as a series of inevitable collapses: "Although we try to break the loop/ It's always stuck repeating." Like the relationship Barnes describes, the song itself continually caves in, begins anew and buckles again.
"No Conclusion" is indicative of how Icons, Abstract Thee plays: It's great on its own, but it works all the better as a foil for its counterpart. That's not to say that Barnes should have pursued his original blueprint for Hissing Fauna. After all, the idea of him using the double-album format -- rock's worst offender for excess and self-indulgence -- to meditate on the consequences of excess and self-indulgence just might have been too much of a good thing.
***"Du Og Meg" MP3
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