It is only the start of 2007 and the local music scene has already yielded two of the year's best albums. Deerhunter's Cryptograms and of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? are ambitious and experimental in sound, and compare favorably with anything released nationally.
The latter album caps a tumultuous two years for the Athens sextet. In April 2005, of Montreal issued The Sunlandic Twins, a happily dance-oriented detour from its past, oddly psychedelic catalog. Polyvinyl Records estimates the album sold more than 50,000 copies. Infamously, of Montreal re-recorded one of its songs, "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)," for a Chili's restaurant commercial.
The fans who complained that The Sunlandic Twins lacked of Montreal's weirder elements should be satisfied with Hissing Fauna. On the surface, it's a nakedly honest biography of leader Kevin Barnes' personal life: giving birth to his first child and moving to Oslo, Norway; and being stranded from his wife and daughter when he returned to Athens to complete Hissing Fauna. As he told Chad Radford for a CL profile last February, "If I was a better father, I would probably quit music."
The contrast between Barnes' professional triumphs in of Montreal and his sometimes-difficult family relations leads to "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," an 11-minute track where he sings lyrics such as "It's so embarrassing to need someone like I do you/How can I explain I need you here and not here too."
But Hissing Fauna isn't primal therapy a la John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Barnes decorates his lyrics with non-sequiturs and cryptic imagery, such as "Faberge Falls for Shuggie," even if his fantasies are rooted in real-world concerns. The music is funky -- early Sly Stone and Paisley-era Prince were allegedly influences on its sound. "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider," a tribute of sorts to Athens' Go Bar, is helium-powered electro-pop less predictable than The Sunlandic Twins dance-rock beats. "You ain't got no soul power," sings Barnes to a girl trying to pick him up. Of Montreal isn't the JBs, but on Hissing Fauna the band achieves a soulfulness all its own.