Having a band is great. You've got each member dedicated to an instrument and ready to pitch in when songwriting time is nigh. Teamwork is important, right? I mean, where would David Bowie be without Mick Ronson lending a riptide riff or solo? Having a band means someone is around to keep you in check, to nix something in the studio or suggest a re-write of lyrics, as in the case of Sabbath's "Warpulgis" becoming the politically charged "War Pigs." But most of all? Having a band means someone will say "no" when you bring up the idea of creating a concept album about a messy breakup.
Kevin Barnes doesn't have a band to tell him "no." Therefore Kevin Barnes made a concept album about a messy breakup. And thank God there was no band to tell him "no," because Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is the best fucking album dropped by this weanie little dude ever.
The album kicks off with "Suffer for Fashion," an upbeat romp with the leading line, "We just want to emote 'til we're dead, I know we suffer for fashion or whatever." Layered over a straight electronic four-beat are stacks and stacks of guitar riffs and basslines and keys and Barnes, 'cause what would an Of Montreal album be without KB turning himself into a overdubbed barbershop quartet. Claiming hit single status, "Suffer for Fashion" drops into "Sink the Seine," a keyed down minute-long transition track, serving as a musical and lyrical set up for "Cato as a Pun," an even more keyed down track divulging further into KB's real or imagined marital strife. Lyrics like "I can't even pretend that you are my friend / what has happened to you and I / And don't say that I have changed 'cause man of course I have" hint at a troubled friendship while slow `90s house beat pans out beneath a dark synth-pop slow jam.
And so it continues for two more tracks as Scandinavia is introduced as the setting for a near-nervous breakdown and despair is sung out underneath glittery dance indie pop that travels through `90s house beats, `80s instrumentation, and `70s glam sensabilites until we collide with the 12-minute long "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal." KB takes us through his own regret and lament as he breaks us into a fast-moving dark and emotional trip down memory lane complete with driving bassline and tortured guitar riffs echoing in the background. While the song continually builds for 12 minutes, Barnes lets go and shouts out his most straight-to-the-point lines like "Let's just have some fun let's tear this shit apart / Let's tear the fucking house apart, let's tear our fucking bodies apart / But let's just have some fun" and "Sometimes I wonder if you're mythologizing me like I do you." The song is an exorcism, purging the album of any other tendencies to let emotions get the best of the music, 'cause Barnes rips right into "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider" right afterwards, a song about hipster girls at bars trying to get into your shit while you're just not digging them.
And if you're willing to get your groove on, we've got some soul sampling kicking around in "Fabrege Falls for Shuggie" and KB's best JB in falsetto impression. Free from the relationship and ready to turn down meaningless sexual gratification, the album starts to wind down with "Labyrinthian Pomp" and "She's a Rejector," detailing our hero's descent into love worship yet again, yet approaching the subject more cautiously when he realizes what he's doing. Killing off the album is "We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling," in which the final stage of grief turns into acceptance, even if acceptance is displayed through a bitter, upbeat anthem of space-pop.
If this was a term paper, this would be the restatement of my thesis. But conclusions are boring, you know? Just something cyclical to help our idiot brains from getting too confused. Barnes is not an indie pop darling, or an electro-pop pioneer. Barnes is a showman, with costumes, makeup, choreographed dance moves and full frontal nudity on stage. And if Barnes is a showman, than I guess that makes this album his own personal tragic opera. But you know, with lots of synthesizers and upbeat pop music carrying it.