Oslo band Montée’s debut album Isle of Now won them the Spellemann’s prize for Best Pop Act back in 2009, but if you thought they were unashamedly ‘pop’ back then, just wait till you hear their second effort Rendition of You. Whilst Isle of Now was a twitchy new-wave take on melodic pop, their latest makes no concession to coolness.
Disco has long been considered ripe for plundering by cutting-edge Norwegians, but whilst the Oslo-disco crew of Lindstrøm et al twist the framework of the genre into something steely, modern and hip, Montee appear to harbour no qualms about nabbing the more tasteless tics of seventies and eighties pop in their pursuit of something as quaint as a massive chorus and a brash dancefloor-ready beat. This is an album that is completely unironically framed by an opener, ‘Faith’, which sounds like what White Lies would come up with if they had a penchant for Village People choruses, and a closer, ‘Paper Thin’, which is a brazen homage to the work of Sting. It should, of course, be extremely painful listening. But by and large it is quite the opposite.
Trying to genuinely channel classic disco-pop into songs fit for a modern audience without just slipping into the novelty aisle is a tough balancing act, and there are moments when the po-faced brashness stumbles into the cheese counter. ‘Find My Love’ is too smooth and throwback for these ears, whilst ‘Souvenir’ is just about saved from greasy funk inanity by a sweet little chorus. Most of the rest, though, is catchy enough to force you to like it whatever your supercilious intentions. The influences may be unimaginably kitsch, but there are enough changes of pace and splashes of colour here to make a varied listening experience, like watching a ‘Best of the 80’s’ video countdown on VH1. The urgent melancholy of the catchy ‘Rendition of You’ snaps into the swirling camp of the catchy ‘Staying Up’. Hell it’s catchy all the way here really. Indeed it’s ‘catchy’ that saves Rendition Of You, because if sixty years of pop music have taught us anything, it’s that we’re suckers for a hummable tune. “Don’t hold back in fear, when I try to place my arms around you” – could flagship single ‘Ghost’ really be taking inspiration from the least cool film of all time, the pottery-starring Swayze vehicle of the same name? I can’t pin that one on them for sure, but judging by the available evidence; probably. But then it’s got a high-pitched male choir and it’s so damn catchy! Such is Montee’s resilience in their pursuit of A Tune that it is frankly hard not to get swept along.
There are songs that it feels okay to like too. Highlight ‘Gone Today’ marries a moody Talking Heads verse to a stadium-sized triple-barreled pouting pop chorus. Without a wasted note, it is exquisitely-formed pop perfection. ‘Crystal Shore’ conjures a twinkling falsetto folksy refrain out of pulsing downtempo, and even the backdrop of lilting block-flutes can’t tip it too far into the saccharine. Overall, though, you will have to let down your guard to get the most out of Montee. This is a band who have determinedly decided that the intersection between Cut Copy and Alphabeat is worth exploring, and have then had a very decent stab at convincing you they were right. Two-thirds of these songs would make great singles whatever the decade. If you like your pleasures guilty, Rendition of You may well have you in the throes of orgasm.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2011