Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The New Classics: Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

There's a new post of mine over at Draw Us Lines on of Montreal's outstanding album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? It's one of those albums I wholly enjoyed on first listen and have played periodically since then with monotonically increasing enjoyment. I had a lot of fun writing the piece; I listened to the album a few dozen times over the course of the week, dissecting little snippets of music and lyrics, trying to figure out exactly what it was that appeals to me so much. I ended up with a lot of ideas and actually had a tough time trying to mold them into a cohesive essay that wasn't 5 pages long. Here are a few stray observations and thoughts that I could have easily expanded on ad nauseum:

  • Wow are these lyrics great. Every time I thought about a song, I would hear the melody and rhythm in my head, but my main thoughts jumped right to, "What is he saying here? What does it mean?" Kudos to Kevin Barnes for accomplishing that.
  • The major theme I touched on in the article was the concept of change and transition, most notably the transformation into Georgie Fruit in "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" and the exploration of that persona in the latter half of the album. But part of the idea of morphing into another person is the concept of plurality; there's a multitude of personalities underneath everything, and that part of the existential quandary is referenced nearly as often as is the change vs. stasis dilemma. For instance, in "Cato as a Pun":
    "I can't even pretend that you are my friend / What has happened to you and I? / And don't say that I have changed / 'Cause, man, of course I have"
    This is only track 3 on the album, so it's ostensibly about Kevin's relationship with his wife, but that little "man" throws me off, and it makes me think that it's also about him talking to another part of his personality, the slowly-emerging Georgie Fruit, struggling to decide whether he's willing to let it bubble to the surface. Or maybe at this point he's only just realizing he has internal problems (since this song immediately follows the "chemica-a-a-a-a-als" of "Heimdalsgate...") and is battling to suppress a faceless, nameless alter ego-to-be.
    Other references to this might be the multi-multi-multi-layered vocals in "Faberge Falls for Shuggie", like when he says "I don't know" over and over, each one offset by a split second. And later, in "Labyrinthian Pomp", he does the same thing a few times with "I can't" and since they're so quick and layered I sometimes think he alternates between saying "I" and "you", like he's talking to two parts of himself.
    Okay, last example of this. Track 5, "Gronlandic Edit", just two songs before the transformation, we sense some anxiety about it: "So, am I erasing myself? / Hope I'm not erasing myself..."
  • I was totally surprised when I paid super close attention to the end of "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" and heard Kevin declaring the names of the follow-up albums to this one! He says coolly: "Skeletal Lamping, The Controller Sphere, False Priest..." a couple times and, in case you didn't know, Skeletal Lamping and False Priest were the immediate successors to this album, save for a small EP of tracks from this session. It makes me wonder when we should expect The Controller Sphere.....
  • Small lyrical quibble: in "Labyrinthian Pomp" he apparently says "She's so meta, references Stendahl", which sounds neat and all, and makes reference to a 19th century French writer (Kevin's favorite time and place for literature, it seems) and, implicitly, his corresponding syndrome. However, what I've always heard and what makes a bit more sense to me, even if it's less literary or whatever, is: "She's so meta, referenced and all", like she (whoever it is) is meta and multi-layered and referenced. Makes more sense, you know?
  • What in the world is going on with the cover art? It's amazing and full of detail, like all of David Barnes' stuff, but . . . they always leave me baffled and looking for little significances in the fine print, so to speak. Maybe that's the point. I dunno.
  • Polyvinyl released a special 12" vinyl version of "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" earlier this year (on super cool-looking marbly sky blue vinyl, no less!). The A side is the original track, and the B side is an alternate version, as performed by the nonexistent band of robots named The Lost Trees (not to be confused with the extant band of humans named Lost in the Trees). You can still buy the digital version, if you'd like, but the limited pressing of 500 is now out of print (really glad I got one!). The "robot version" was recorded to be used in a short film by Spike Jonze, "I'm Here". It's about a robot, naturally.

Anyway, like I said, with an album like this there are always so many angles to take on it and so many ideas to process. Enjoy the article, and share your own thoughts, please!

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