For a record that so ruthlessly explores the devastating emotional fallout of a relationship, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? can be an extremely entertaining experience. It’s certainly one of the most amusing breakup albums I’ve listened to, flaunting its theatrical tone with an imposing degree of flamboyancy and flair.
The aesthetic is one that proves to be a decisive factor for listeners: Hissing Fauna constantly makes itself heard, playing out like a bright and colourful parade. Every style that of Montreal take on here is exaggerated, and combined with the albums open-ended structure, it’s honestly quite exhausting. The multi-tracked harmonies will prove joyous or insane depending on your mood, though in reality it’s a share of both: frontman Kevin Barnes expresses himself with an exuberance that seems as buoyant as it is unhinged.
In 2007 he confessed that ‘the lyrics tell the story of what was really going on and the music sort of represents this other emotion that I wish existed.’ To his credit, this totally comes off. Aside from 11-minute centrepiece “The Past is a Grotesque Animal”, which incidentally is utterly magnificent, the instrumentals are soaked in an essence of exhilaration, packed with memorable melodies and catchy chorus refrains. The middle portion of the album is where its relentless enthusiasm truly pays off: “Gronlandic Edit” and “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger” stand as clear highlights for carrying a unique sound of their own, whereas other cuts rely heavily on an obvious artistic influence. “Labyrinthian Pomp” for example, cannot escape sounding like a decent Prince B-side.
There are more hits than misses, but an album so fierce on fun can’t afford many of these sort of mishaps. Hissing Fauna is an achievement in many ways, particularly on the production front, and the record has deservedly earned praise for its sincere lyrical content. There are a handful of stellar pop tracks, and a mammoth mid-album climax that will go down as one of Of Montreal’s single finest moments. Ten years on and Hissing Fauna continues to be adored by many, but the overall package proves to be slightly too self-indulgent for my tastes.
7 out of 10
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is a primal scream that can easily be mistaken for a laugh. Much of the record was written when Kevin Barnes was cripplingly depressed in a foreign land and contemplating the possible dissolution of his marriage, and it follows that its lyrical content is largely bleak, desperate, utterly despairing. Yet, apart from “The Past is a Grotesque Animal”, the swirling vortex at the album’s centre (and one of the outstanding tracks of the 00s), the songs are never presented as such. Especially on the first half, they’re manic, flamboyant, playful, frankly irresistible pop numbers that compel you to sing and dance along. A plea for friendship, or some kind of positive human connection or feeling, perhaps.
These songs are, of course, also endowed with a poignancy and a melancholy when read as Barnes’ attempts to patch in conspicuously absent feelings, to create a world he wished existed, but this does not obscure the essential fact that this album is a fucking hoot – an album that would rather you have a good time than feel sorry for its creator. And so, this may be Kevin Barnes’ most introspective album — or at least his most plainly autobiographical, as he often deals in fantasy and whimsy — but it’s also his most generous and human. A lesser artist would have whipped out the acoustic guitar and put on their best (inadequate) Nick Drake impression, tried their hardest to create something ‘raw’ and ‘tortured’ and ‘authentic’. Such endeavours, of course, misunderstand Nick Drake and often produce dreary, trite, solipsistic ditties that wallow in misery and self-satisfaction.
Hissing Fauna doesn’t wallow, and I would argue that it’s more affecting, pleasurable, and emotionally honest (in my experience with depression, anyway) that Barnes explicitly rendered his desire to be anything other horribly depressed. And, because of this openness, it’s an album to live with; I wasn’t old enough to catch it when it was first released, but it’s been there when I’ve needed it, and it never becomes wearisome or threatens to lose its iridescent gleam. It’s just about the best time you can have with chemical imbalance.
9 out of 10
A decade ago, of Montreal released Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? to wide critical acclaim. Despite my listening habits at the time, including the likes of Animal Collective, Late of the Pier, and The Unicorns, all of which draw from the same pool of colourful, psychedelic indie pop as this album does, this is another first experience for me. It’s been a positive one at that, with each listen generating ear to ear grins at times and new points of note to discover. of Montreal disguise sombre negativity with flamboyant, theatrical instrumentation that could be mistaken for music from a couple of decades prior, with funk-filled bass lines and coarse, antiquated synth tones.
The achingly happy first-impression continues through the majority of the tracklist, though nearly every track does something new and interesting, making for a memorable listen that doesn’t outstay its welcome despite its 50+ minute length. Having regularly bemoaned long tracks in the past, I should have issues with “The Past is a Grotesque Animal”, but I didn’t even notice its length, swelling through the majority of its duration to a satisfying climax with an atmosphere not dissimilar to LCD Soundsystem.
“Faberge Falls for Shuggie” is manic and full of ideas, but firmly sits in my list of favourites, with a tilted funk and an awful lot of screaming. Floating upon it all are Kevin Barnes’ vocals, which are far from joyful in their content, particularly in the first half. ‘I’m in a crisis, I need help’; ‘I’m satisfied hiding in my friend’s apartment’; ‘I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown’ — these certainly aren’t thoughts mirrored by the instrumentals in any of the songs, but the contrast adds a layer of melancholy, or maybe an attempt to resolve it, that only makes for a more interesting listen.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?. It’s aged very well, and I’ve added yet another artist to my list for further discography exploration. I’ll no doubt return to this as a whole in the future!
8 out of 10