It’s nice to find an album that so completely embraces pop music while so thoroughly scorning its trappings and tropes.
The new double album from Michal Bandac and Mourning Glory, Monte Carlo Music & Salon Songs, is just such an album: a schizophrenic jaunt that both celebrates and eviscerates pop forms and sounds, yielding something that pays respect to the past and still manages to sound completely new.
This double album contains two separate and very distinct records. The first disk, Monte Carlo Music, is full of flashy, hard-hitting rock jams, while the second disk, Salon Songs, is an acoustic rock/gypsy/folk expression laced with humor and the occasional oddly graphic sexual reference.
Together they explore almost as many genres as there are songs and contain enough musical ideas to keep most musicians busy for their entire careers.
Bandac is a masterful musician—fast-picking but not in that flashy, deeply irritating sort of way. His chops are of a more subtle variety: the lines and parts are all deliberate and in service to the song. I’m reminded of Elliot Smith, where the mastery is so nuanced it’s easy to overlook.
Guided by a finely-tuned ear, Bandac builds chord progressions and melodies that are novel yet familiar. Of course that familiarity depends on which of the myriad genres represented on the album you happen to be familiar with, but assuming you’ve ever heard U2, Tom Waits, Stone Temple Pilots or Jeff Buckley, it’s easy to see the homages to—and departures from—these masters.
The kicker is that Bandac plays almost every instrument—every note and hit on the album.
So in addition to being able to sing like Tom Waits and Jeff Buckley in the course of a few measures, he’s also playing drums, bass, guitars and piano.
I’m not always a fan of Stevie-Wonder-style-do-everything-yourself records because they can sound stagnant. But in the capable hands of a pro like Bandac, it gives the record a tight, purposeful sound that drives the songs with the energy of a large group.
For all the strength of the musical ideas and their execution, the lyrics occasionally feel tossed-together which compromises some of the subtlety of the underlying music.
Some of the lyrics (these are from the song Star) are great:
“Like one single star / in all of space / like tears under water / just one taste.”
Some other lyrics feel harsh and can occasionally break the spell, such as the opening lines to Cry To Your Momma:
“You’re cute but kind of sad / like a fat girl eating ice cream / midgets on a trampoline / wrestling in Vaseline.”
While I can see the humour, I prefer jokes that are more musical in nature. Some songs are masterful combinations of great music and great lyrics, and unsurprisingly these tunes are my favorites on the album.
I think I listened to Butterfly Tree about 47 times before I needed a break.
One challenge of the do-everything approach to recording is that you have to have a tremendous amount of musical ideas to keep the experience interesting for the listener. While I enjoy each song in its own right, there are some disparate themes that could be the seeds of albums in and of themselves, rather than trying to fit into this collection.
I also imagine that putting these two very different records together in one double album presents some marketing challenges; while Bandac can clearly reside in that space between sweet acoustic rock and screeching heavy metal, I’m not sure all of the potential audience will be able to hang on for the ride. That said, I am an advocate for going outside of the listener comfort zone—after all, the best parts of my favorite albums were never revealed on the first listen.
So if you can hang on for a few rounds (and you should), this new album will not disappoint.
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Editor: Renée Picard
Image: via James Thorpe