In the pantheon of People Who Really Sound Like Their Album Art, alongside such luminaries as Daniel Johnston and My Bloody Valentine, sits Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, in headphones, grooving out to the fey paranoia of his latest album and sketching out more Henry Darger-esque mandalas for the cover of the next one. As in the case of the aforementioned fellow-pantheon dwellers, the obsessive compulsive faux-naïveté that characterizes Of Montreal’s style and substance can be traced back to the vision of a guiding personal sensibility, in this case Barnes, who writes, sings, plays most of the instruments, and controls the presentation; whenever the totality of a project is shaped so wholly by one personality there’s something cultish about it, but especially so in the case of Of Montreal.
This is, after all, an album whose first track, the sugar-crunch ‘Suffer for Fashion’, features Barnes’ double-tracked vocals wailing about the importance of “keep[ing] our little clique clicking at 133bpm,” and, later, as synthsizers go up and down like sirens, repeating “let’s go together… forever.” Elsewhere, his lyrical non-sequiturs see him dipping liberally into Scandinavian imagery, and throwaways alternately ominous and absurd.
Temperamentally, Of Montreal’s free-floating enthusiasm groups them with freak-folk, but, as befitting ‘Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse’, which sees Barnes anguishing over his mood swings and appealing to the benevolence of chemicals, Hissing Fauna puts its frantic, dark, and giddy moods through all manner of synthetic filters. Occasionally Barnes strikes the same lily-white pose of schoolboy glee over synth-driven dance music that Northern Soul sometimes inspires in Stuart Murdoch (check the falsetto and line about the “booty patrol” in ‘Labyrinthian Pomp’); elsewhere, notably in the nearly 12-minute ‘The Past Is a Grotesque Animal’, he’s an uncanny, borderline obsessive modulator, layering keyboard swirls above and below a steady guitar thrum.
Mostly, though, it’s a collection of upbeat hippie new wave likely to provide plenty of fodder for Of Montreal’s live show. If, that is, you can distract yourself from Barnes’s costume changes and the masks on his acolytes — sorry, bandmates. So go ahead, drink the Kool-Aid.