Of Montreal front man Kevin Barnes can’t deal with his emotions — in the past, he was able to gloss over them with an energetic effervescence strong enough to make even the children of Williamsburg dance. This time, though, he has chosen to deposit all his angst into his band’s latest “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?” Lucky us! The past two years have taken such a toll on the man that he is now incapable of delivering in the category that he once owned: psychedelic hipster dance music.
So what happened? Well, Barnes and his wife moved to Norway to have a baby. He fell into a deep depression, returned to the U.S. and separated from his wife, who moved back to Norway with their newborn daughter. But wait, I’m confused: Aren’t personal struggles supposed to be the food for great art? Doesn’t every musician pray each day to fall in or out of love so he can write the next great passionate confessional? Whatever the case may be, heartbreak only leads to misery for Barnes and his music provides no salvation.
Barnes is rather up-front with just about everything on this album as his lyrics wallow in the blunt and pathetic. On “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger,” he moans about being on the verge of a total breakdown and “trying to restructure my character/ ‘Cause it had become vile to its creator.” The song’s bouncing xylophones and sliding synths have some definite shake-a-leg potential, but the overwhelming pity that drenches the lyrics quickly curbs any desire for dancing.
“Hissing Fauna” deals with a handful of post break-up blues and addresses them with the most lifeless detail. Barnes turns to drugs (he chants “Come on chemicals!” in nauseating repetition) on “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” and even attempts to convince us that he still has what it takes to attract women (or men, for that matter) on “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider.”
But while these emotional outlets are pitiful, both lyrically and sonically, Barnes’ catharsis is by far the album’s most regrettable track. The 11:53 minute freakish monstrosity, aptly titled “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” is weighed down by much more than its gassy bloat. After getting off to a painfully slow start, the song chugs into a monotonous chant interrupted by equally droning and strident oohs. Barnes’ sporadic charming falsetto is replaced by sudden bursts of emphasis and the song slowly kaleidoscopes into ruin. It is nearly 12 minutes of entrapment in a disorienting and hellish funhouse and the painful track adds yet another post-break-up woe to Barnes’ every-growing list of things to discuss with his therapist: anger issues. On the track, he moans “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.” Even though the track does include the romantic plea “And you can betray me, but teach me something wonderful,” Barnes’ insanity won’t garner him a single dose of sympathy.
And when the lyrics falter, the music never steps up to give the album a shred of support. There are times when Barnes channels the exultant pop of his 2004 release “Satanic Panic in the Attic” — the aforementioned “Sentence of Sorts” rides atop a bopping swirl and “She’s A Rejector” boasts cool syncopation — but on the whole, the album falls flat. The absurdist psychedelia that Barnes once shamelessly flaunted has been darkened and diluted.
Now that Barnes is back with his wife, maybe Of Montreal can return to their previous flamboyant glory. And with the hope that a return to quirky energy is in their future, let’s pretend this one didn’t exist. Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica.