This piece was originally published by Audioxide in February 2017. Because I really didn’t like that Elbow record, I got to choose the older album we’d all review the next week. I went with of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer? because: A) it had recently turned ten years old; B) it’s fucking outstanding, are you kidding me? Also, it turned out that André and Andrew hadn’t heard it, so if anything it was my gift to them.
Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer? is a primal scream that can easily be mistaken for a laugh. Much of the record was written when the band’s frontman, Kevin Barnes, was cripplingly depressed in a foreign land and contemplating the possible dissolution of his marriage, and it follows that its lyrical content is largely bleak, desperate, and utterly despairing. Yet, apart from ‘The Past is a Grotesque Animal’, the swirling vortex at the album’s centre (and one of the outstanding tracks of the 00s), the songs are never presented as such. Especially on album’s the first half, they’re manic, flamboyant, playful, frankly irresistible pop numbers that compel you to sing and dance along. A plea for friendship, or some kind of positive human connection or feeling, perhaps. These songs are, of course, also endowed with a poignancy and a melancholy when read as Barnes’ attempts to patch in conspicuously absent feelings, to create a world he wished existed, but this does not obscure the essential fact that this album is a fucking hoot – an album that would rather you have a good time than feel sorry for its creator.
And so, this may be Kevin Barnes’ most introspective album – or at least his most plainly autobiographical, as he often deals in fantasy and whimsy – but it’s also his most generous and human. A lesser artist would have whipped out the acoustic guitar and put on their best (inadequate) Nick Drake impression, tried their hardest to create something ‘raw’ and ‘tortured’ and ‘authentic’. Such endeavours, of course, misunderstand Nick Drake and often produce dreary, trite, solipsistic ditties that wallow in misery and self-satisfaction. Hissing Fauna… doesn’t wallow, and I would argue that it’s more affecting, pleasurable, and emotionally honest (in my experience with depression, anyway) that Barnes explicitly rendered his desire to be anything other horribly depressed. And, because of this openness, it’s an album to live with; I wasn’t old enough to catch it when it was first released, but it’s been there when I’ve needed it, and it never becomes wearisome or threatens to lose its iridescent gleam. It’s just about the best time you can have with chemical imbalance.