Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes has increasingly come to embody the glorious escapism of pop music. Though largely obscure to the masses, Barnes and his indie bandmates have displayed a steadfast, near mastery of jangling pop craftsmanship since their 1997 debut. Radiant synths and kinetic guitar work lace their musical offerings, making this sublime outfit a clear forbearer (however young they may be) of hipster darlings like the Shins and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Their latest release does not symbolize any sort of major deviation from the tenor of their prior output. Although perhaps more rooted in shades of punchy electronica, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? remains liberally doused with easy, Brian Wilson-inflected pop thrills and in no way lacks the pleasure of, say, 2004’s standout Satanic Panic in the Attic. Overall, Hissing Fauna is a success, but not an unqualified one, as structural ailments impede its loftier aspirations. Saddled with a puzzling centerpiece and a scattered second half, Hissing Fauna postures like a winner but isn’t the effervescent knockout that it could have been.

The opening six numbers comprise an awesome, maddeningly infectious sequence that elevates the whole enterprise. In fact, the album could almost have worked better as an excessively joyous EP. The starter, “Suffer for Fashion,” begins with the line, “We just want to emote till we’re dead” and, at a galloping pace, proceeds to do so with its thin crunch of guitars and stomping percussion. Like most of Hissing Fauna, it relishes in frenetically shifting course on a whim, creating a chugging momentum in its wake.

Its two sister entries, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” and “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsinger” (a representative sampling of the album’s verbose song titles), apply comparable sonic schemes but further buoy the pop richness. “Heimdalsgate” rides a sheen of whirling synths and dreamy electro-organs to reach psych-pop euphoria, with Barnes sounding overtaken with urgent glee as he belts out, “Come on chemicals/ Come on chemicals!” “Kongsinger” deploys a similar blend of disparate rattles and shuffles that burst with sunny lushness. “Sink the Seine,” “Cato as a Pun” and the fabulous, disco bass-thick “Grenlandic Edit” round out this killer stretch. At this point, Hissing Fauna seems primed for certain greatness.

Then the ostensible centerpiece, “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” arrives. With a running length of nearly 12 minutes, it’s a moody, droning charger that broods and broods but never progresses beyond the status of elongated tangent. Sure, it boasts superb theremin swirls and shots of spaced-out buzzes but, as the album’s fulcrum, “Grotesque Animal” falters badly. Its dour flow upsets the frenzied ecstasy of the preceding section and, to a varying extent, the subsequent numbers, creating tonal discord. Admittedly, diverse moods can enliven any work of art. Here, however, a note of light pathos, not inscrutable angst, would have functioned better.

Hissing Fauna's latter half doesn’t succumb to wild reels from this miscalculation, but it does unfold like a mixed bag. “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” offers a dose of the pleasing side of the album’s second half. It opens with a sporadic mess of static but quickly settles into a warped, retro guitar roll that smacks of an early Beatles hit (like “Please Please Me”) overlaid with swirling, Brian Eno-like arrangements. It makes for a fantastically sugary groove.

Others, regrettably, play like going-through-the-motions filler. The curiously titled “Faberge Falls For Shuggie” seems to cruise by on autopilot with its vanilla funk tempo and uninventive spurts of computerized beats. On “Labrynthian Pomp,” Barnes mimics David Byrne’s falsetto with some success, but in general, the song’s sonic canvas contains excessive splatters. The contours of Parliament Funkadelic are paired with incongruous electronica to disappointing results. Overreaching may be preferable to undershooting, but here the former plagues what could have been a good song.

Thankfully, despite its sporadic pitfalls, Hissing Fauna finds Barnes’ lyrical acumen at a still-sterling quality. In the past, he’s best displayed this skill in the context of screwy third-person narratives. Here, the whimsy and wit remain, but the packaging changes to more scattered observational musings. Some highlight phrases include: “Sometimes I wonder if you’re mythologizing me/ As I do you,” “Nihilists with good imaginations” and “I guess it would be nice to give my heart to a god, but which one?” One line, however, near the middle of “Grenlandic Edit,” especially pays tribute to Barnes’ ingenuity. After backup vocalists casually mutter, “Bitches, bitches,” Barnes continues, “Physics makes us all its bitches.” You’re damn right it does.

Moments of such oddball glee abound on Hissing Fauna, making it an often-rousing pop confection. Occasional lapses into bland excess do render it imperfect, but fortunately the sweets outdo the bitter and deliver with easy satisfaction.

Rating: 3 out of 5