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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Of Montreal
Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

Rating: 8.7/10 ?

January 30, 2007
The Athens collective Elephant 6 has spawned some of the most imaginative groups of the past decade. Unique in the musical landscape, it has provided a launching pad for bands that - especially before the internet - embodied under-the-radar success: Beulah, Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo, Elf Power and others. In addition to being inextricably linked to short-lived indie heroes Neutral Milk Hotel, the E6 relations extend to another illustrious member, the increasingly popular Of Montreal.

The common threads that bind most of these bands are a do-it-yourself ethic, lower-fi production values and a slant toward untraditional song structures. With its latest release, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, Of Montreal weaves a tapestry that perfectly reflects these aesthetics. The band is the brainchild of Kevin Barnes, and he gets the credit for all writing, performing and production, with the requisite supporting musicians in tow. The record may be his singular vision, yet in actuality it's more a kaleidoscope through which Barnes freely engages in genre-bending and era-hopping. Not coincidentally, the tasteful CD packaging comes with a patterned and colorful circular insert that suggests this very view.

Looking back at Of Montreal's two previous albums reveals a musical arc that is completed by Hissing Fauna. On Satanic Panic in the Attic, the group channeled the euphoric pop spirit of the Beach Boys and early Beatles. On last year's Sunlandic Twins, the band hijacked 80's beats and synthesizers, and created an electro-pop work that won them a growing following of critics and fans alike. Hissing Fauna adeptly combines the strengths of those two albums into a melting pot of influences. More importantly, if Of Montreal were previously a bit on the superficial side with their beatific pop, Hissing Fauna adds a welcome additional ingredient: a sense of gravity.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the centerpiece of the album, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," a ten minute track that flies by in about half that time. With a minor tone and shivering backing vocals, it's a confessional that dredges up the emotional rawness of Robert Smith. The lyrics are cathartic, and Barnes' delivery style is more commanding than anything he's done. "It's so embarrassing to need someone/ Like I do you/ How can I explain/ I need you here/ And not here too." Later he coolly states "But it's like we weren't made for this world/ Though I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was" and then tirades "let's tear the fucking house apart" and "even apocalypse is fleeting." It makes one realize just how beautiful shadows are when light is shone on them.

Elsewhere on the album the mood is decidedly lighter and more familiar. "Gronlandic Edit," with it's disco funkadelic and falsetto vocals, is a direct descendent of David Bowie's "Fame." On "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" the Fender Rhodes and brazen soulful singing is so sublime I was transported to the days when Earth Wind and Fire ruled the FM airwaves. "Labyrinthian Pomp" owes much to Prince, from the Berlin-techno femme vocals, to sexed-up lines about endorsements from the booty patrol.

In lesser hands this sort of amalgamation could lead to ludicrous results. But like Beck, Barnes has proven he can travel in madcap orbits without leaving the stratosphere. Hissing Fauna has an inspired incongruity to it, ranging from the tinny production to the lugubrious song titles, yet at its core is a staunch declaration of independence. Barnes and his Elephant 6 cohorts have never followed status quo, and bands like them are vital in a world that can lazily favor artistic ubiquity. When they record fabulous music, the rewards are invigorating.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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