The first impulse is to let the shimmering exterior of Going Places slowly surround you, to accept it like you would an embrace from an earnestly affectionate and somehow completely unthreatening stranger. It is difficult to resist a record that comes on like the first warm braids of summer sun, thawing out a winter’s reserve of sanguinity. On his third album, Montreal’s Montag (Antoine Bédard) frames simple melodies in sweeping fields of cathartic sound. He deftly integrates vintage instrumentation within gauzy electronic textures, suggesting the humble grandeur of Stereolab while laying out the particulars of his own sensibility.
Going Places feels like a complete album, an impression enhanced rather than diminished by the many guests who join Bédard. They include Amy Millan (Stars), Anthony Gonzales (M83), Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) and Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, among others. Each fits his or her role perfectly, helping to achieve Bédard’s vision for the respective tracks. Gonzales contributes vocals and keys on “I Have Sound,” which opens the album ethereally, slowly building from a hymn-like beginning into unabashed jubilance, setting the tone for the rest of the album. “Best Boy Electric”, effervescing with cutesy romantic sentiment, is the following track. “Just one word, just one smile can change your world” is representative of the delight it takes in celebrating the sudden joy of finding someone to share your time and experiences with. The track is all upbeat electronic pop, combusting with the irresistible, distempered exuberance of The Postal Service at their most vulnerably optimistic, on “Brand New Colony” for example. But Bédard is more apt to limit the lyrical content, expressing himself in simple statements and letting the music provide the bulk of the atmospherics. It is tempting to divide the songs on Going Places into three types: ecstatic without reservation (“Best Boy Electric”); ecstatic but infused with lingering melancholy (“Going Places”); and somber with undertones of immaculate calm (“>(Plus Grand Que)”). The latter, sung in French, is a languorous ballad, growing in layers as it progresses, touching on the sublime thanks to Victoria Legrand’s anachronistic harmony vocals. It is notable for its cloistered quality, for being the album’s sole chamber-pop tune, yet one that is feather-light and integrated seamlessly.
As a whole, Going Places is a dreamy affair, shifting into different degrees of whimsy with the sudden entrance of a slaphappy drumbeat, sliding off gently into near silences, silences filled by the expectation of more euphoric electro-fuzz. But there are moments where this ubiquitous dreaminess is used to ironic effect. On “Mechanical Kids,” Bédard happily extols the joys of embracing a fanatical conformism, singing in a clipped staccato and not for a second inflecting sarcasm. The ridiculously blissed-out “ba-ba-ba-ba” vocals toward the end beautifully illustrate the narcotic effect of “not too much thinking,” a line which Millan and Bédard trade off singing until the song concludes in a wash of softly disjointed sound. It is illustrative of the subtle moments of profundity scattered throughout Going Places, both undercutting and emphasizing the over-biding elation of the album.
One is left with conflicting impressions. Going Places seems both ambitious and contented by being a collection of simple, if ornately ornamented, pop-songs. Both are true to some degree, but with subsequent listens things that seemed at first harmless or simply part of the scenery start to stand out as the focal points of certain tracks. And this ability to construct songs open and suggestive enough to allow for a continually changing listening experience is Montag’s most remarkable feat.
Dntel – Life is Full of Possibilities
Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup
M83 – Before the Dawn Heals Us