It's not like Kevin Barnes has never written sad songs with coherent lyrics—he lurched in and out of good moods between his acid-fueled romps through the thesaurus on Of Montreal's last two albums, The Sunlandic Twins and Satanic Panic In The Attic—but it's a little surprising to hear nearly an entire album of them. "Suffer For Fashion," the first track on Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, throws up a swirl of lo-fi synths and power chords, and for a few minutes, it seems it might continue the Satanic/Sunlandic party. It's clear that isn't the case by the end of the third track, "Cato As A Pun," when Barnes tells a friend, "I guess you just want to shave your head, have a drink, and be left alone," locking in the frustration and resignation that grips most of the rest of this album.
Still, it's all darkly beautiful, because Barnes continues to emote more through the music than through his words; "Cato" follows that stark message with close to 60 seconds of icy keyboards, as if to ease people into accepting that they're getting a newly unadulterated, prolonged taste of his personal life. The real test comes on "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal," which includes nearly 10 minutes of Barnes' plainspoken tales of failed relationships and self-loathing. As the track drags on, Barnes' directness cuts through much of the mystery and sheer weirdness that made his previous records so enjoyable, exchanging it for a single, rambling catharsis.
Barnes stops short of forcing people to feel his pain for 50 minutes: The bedroom-Funkadelic layers of vocals on "Faberge Falls For Shuggie" and "Labyrinthian Pomp" make it mercifully impossible to tell what he's talking about for most of eight minutes. The uneasiness lingers even on those tracks, but—in case his mastery of lo-fi delight made anyone forget—Barnes' melodic imagination doesn't stop at euphoria.