After an impressive showing with 2004's Satanic Panic in the Attic
and a jubilant follow-up in 2005's Sunlandic Twins
, Of Montreal
captain Kevin Barnes fell on some peculiar times. The birth of a daughter, alienation and depression in Norway, and subsequent separation from his wife and new child gave him plenty to mull over, work out, and serve up on 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
At first glance, longtime Of Montreal
followers might throw up their arms in dismay as Barnes moves well away from the usual slice-of-life character studies he's made such good use of over the past few years -- no pop-challenged London cabbies or paranoid senior citizens on Hissing
. No sir. In fact, it's all about him -- every stitch of it. It's Kevin Barnes trying to woo himself out of a deep funk ("Suffer for Fashion," "Sink the Seine," and especially "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse"), lashing out ("She's a Rejecter"), or taking a dip in the self-pity pool (the epic wallower "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" is nearly 12 minutes of drone-dance affirmations). At first, it's an alarming listening experience. Where's the self-assured, polished pop maestro who made such a fine showing on the past two albums? He took one hell of a beating, that's for sure. The Kevin Barnes heard here has a bone to pick, issues to work out, and a big ol' chip on his shoulder -- and, man, does it show. The music and production reflect this as much as the lyrical content. Barnes throws every trick in his book at every arrangement, lending every track a definite "I'll show you!!" vibe. And show he does. The explosive opener, "Suffer for Fashion," exceeds every over the top anthem he's ever penned in one 2:58 ejaculation, and the alternately swaggering and smooth "Cato as a Pun" melds a gutsy guitar riff with a gorgeously fussed-over verse. Production-wise, it's quite an achievement -- the whole thing -- and, coupled with the bile and bitterness of the lyrics, makes for an exhausting experience in the headphones. There might be stray moments of whimsy, in the tunes and verse, but they are scant, and they hardly provide the lighthearted breathing room fans are used to receiving from the man. "Light" is not a word useful in describing any portion of this excursion, and the serious tone of this record may cause some hand wringing among even the dedicated. It's a challenging but ultimately rewarding album -- and one that definitely requires some thoughtful attention from the listener. Don't stow this one back on the shelf just yet -- it's a "grower."