Friday, October 26, 2007

MUSIC REVIEW: Of Montreal "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? "

Every critic has a method by which they compile year-end lists. I include non-released album cuts for consideration because quality product is sometimes neglected for marketability. A good example of this is Nelly Furtardo's 'Loose'. Good pop record yet it behooves me as to why she's hell bent on releasing every track except the best one ('Glow'). With year-end lists one can reasonably expect one act to have multiple entries, say, three or four but surely not more. This year I felt could have changed that but as Bjork didn't unveil the Second Coming with 'Volta' and M.I.A yet to release hers (at the time of this being published), I presumed I was safe. Then an unusual thing happened. Online in the blogs, word spread of the latest release by Athens, Georgia band Of Montreal. As I'm a fan of blog hype, I quickly did a search on You tube and it took a mere twenty minutes to catapult me into the biggest Of Montreal fan this side of the Pacific.

The man behind this masterpiece is lead singer Kevin Barnes and the album is a journal of his feelings after the break-up of a relationship which scurried him to Norway to clear his head. The air there must be very conducive because 'Hissing Fauna...'-- the band's eight effort--s a giant leap from their previous material. Ever since their 1997 debut 'Cherry Peel', Of Montreal have toed the line of trying to sound original and imitating their heroes so self-consciously that it's hard to decipher where the divergence takes place. In other words, they were a good band but not a great one because the element of originality was lacking. 'Hissing Fauna' parodies its many influences and sometimes shamelessly so but when Barnes suffuses the songs with his queer and wry sensibility it really unearths a deeper and more truthful meaning to them.

It is a break-up record as well and this is where the residual personality of the album is based. Barnes infuses a lot of catty glam-rock to shield his hurt but the lyrics belie the truth. On 'She's a Rejecter' he shrieks viciously, 'oh no/ she's a rejecter/ I must protect myself/ there's the girl that left me bitter', yet remains gleeful right until the end. It is one hell of poison penmanship. This open-endedness is a permanence that heightens the listening experience. With his heart on his sleeve, Barnes pens his emotions and produces the brilliant songs with this structure. Most break-up records depress while addressing the other party (i.e. Beck's tedious 'Sea Change'). 'Hissing Fauna' however acts as self-therapy to Barnes even though it's such an accessible record.

Including the aforementioned 'She's a Rejecter' there are six more immediate contenders for best song of the year. 'Grolandic Edit' slows the tempo down to a whisper but its brilliance is in its haunting lyrics and faux vocal usage (I guess it would be nice to give my heart to a God/ but which one/ which one do I choose'. 'Cato as a Pun' is even slower and more pensive with its cry out for help ('what has happened to you my friend/ and don't say that I have changed/ I guess you'd rather lock yourself in and be alone'). 'Labyrinthian Pomp'is dead-on the Bowie vibe that is increasingly becoming a dime-a-dozen for male pop fabulists. 'A Sentence of sorts in Kongsvinger' (I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown/ while living in Norway) and 'We Were Born the Mutants again with Leafling' (we love to view unfortunate passions...) rotate their fabulousness with swirling multi-vocal work. 'Faberge Falls for Shuggie' is the best white boy Prince impersonation since Beck dropped 'Sex Laws'.

The influence of David Bowie is evident enough but strains of Pink Floyd and even the flowery vibe of 'Sgt. Pepper' can be heard being tossed around deliciously. This retro pop funk is all the rage this year. What makes Of Montreal the best is the consistency which they achieve. It's fairly easy to get one hit record with this kitsch (Mika's brilliant 'Relax, Take it Easy' is a good example) but seven is phenomenal for any musician. Of Montreal hails from the same city that gave us R.E.M and can now claim to be able to stand on the experience of their previous work not just that of other artistes. It’s a true testament to their growth then that the other songs and ideas are just as fascinating. 'Snk the Seine'would be epic if it weren' so short. 'Suffer for Fashion' doesn't loosen long enough to truly take a magnificent shape and 'Like a Promethean Curse'comes close to breaking out into mayhem but catches itself too early too often. The one oddity is 'The Past is a Grotesque Animal'. It's a ballad thus out of place on an album full of grooves being jettisoned around. It's the one obligatory track where Barnes addresses directly his break-up. It's an ungainly sound but then again resolving one's issues tends to be but it is not a commercial compromise, more like a personal one. As it is smack right in the center of the opus, it can be viewed as a farewell because he presses on immediately after to party heartily with a relieved conscience. Though they'll be ignored by most award shows because of the early release date (including the hopelessly outdated Grammys) Of Montreal have simply constructed one of the best albums of 2007.

RATING: 9/10

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