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Melancholy, hopefully not infinite sadness

Instead of his usual sunny pop, Kevin Barnes’ Of Montreal returns with a personal tale of woe

Under normal, more fabulous circumstances, Of Montreal ringleader Kevin Barnes would poo-poo confessional, introspective music of any kind. The cross-dressing, falsetto-boasting maestro has always favored dazzlingly bizarre pop fantasies: worlds within songs where he and his own life needn’t exist, where he can have his glitter makeup and hide behind it, too.

ARTIST: Of Montreal
ALBUM: “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?”
LABEL: Polyvinyl Records

But after separating from wife and musical collaborator Nina Barnes and spending a year isolated and depressed in Norway’s chilly desolations, the group’s primary songwriter, musician and producer likely needed a change of pace.

“Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?” is the result, a manic mood-kaleidoscope meant to release some of Barnes’ inner demons. Any traces of the group’s bouncy-but-barebones garage rock beginnings or their later experimentations with twee electronica have been shed indefinitely.

The album instead uses a darker fusion of glam rock and spacey synth to mirror Barnes’ bitter lyrics, making for a drastic transition many fans might initially find strange. They’re used to Of Montreal needing Ritalin, not Paxil.

“Suffer For Fashion,” the album’s first track and single, is a rabid swirl of pop ejaculations that feels painfully desperate for attention. “Please call me if you miss me, feel me or whatever,” Barnes cries, adding that if “we’ve got to burn out, let’s do it together.”

He tries everything to mend a broken heart. On “Gronlandic Edit” he hides out at a friend’s apartment, leaving only to buy some groceries. “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” explores his drug experimentations (“Come on mood shift, shift back to good again/ come on, be a friend”). And Barnes even attempts to slut his pain away on “Bunny Ain’t No Kind Of Rider,” one of the disc’s scant humorous tracks that finds him looking for a replacement lover with “soul power.”

The 12-minute gut-wrenching ballad “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” is where Barnes finally breaks down after nothing quite seems to work. The multilayered, robotic wails of “ooos” and “aaahs” are cushioned by a persistent bass line, frenzied keys and uncharacteristically bile verse like “Let’s tear this fucking house apart/ let’s tear our fucking bodies apart/ let’s just have some fun.”

“Hissing Fauna” might not be the expected type of follow-up to 2005’s jubilant “The Sunlandic Twins.” Perhaps that’s what’s so irresistible about Of Montreal in the first place – the band can be convincing even in their schizophrenia.

And there are still traces of sugar-high pop influence underneath all the pain, making for a deliciously catchy and ultimately rewarding listen. Even if you don’t prefer it to their other albums, you’ll probably still identify with it. After all, Barnes just needs a little love and patience. Doesn’t everyone?

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