Montag: Alone, Not Alone

Not having heard Antoine Bédard's first Montag outing Are you a Friend? (Gooom Disques, 2002) but duly prompted by the 'monster'-like moniker, I thought that Alone, Not Alone might be electronic music of the crushingly noisy and cranium-shattering type—a totally wrong guess, it turns out, as the recording is the exact opposite: an utterly captivating collection of ‘60s-flavoured pop songs coloured by all the breeziness such a description entails. While Montag's sound might recall that of Stereolab and Broadcast, there isn't a hint of irony or pastiche in Bédard's music; it's entirely heartfelt and intimate, similar in spirit to recent albums by Khonnor and Boy in Static, other notable progenitors of a new wave of innocent electropop. Bédard distinguishes himself from his contemporaries, though, by judiciously enhancing his songs with subtle electronic touches as opposed to smothering songs with glitchy static; he brings a more pronounced orchestral dimension to the album too by liberally drawing from a 'classical-music sound bank' of samples of seventeen instruments played by musicians from the Conservatoire de Montréal. And, though mastered by Sixtoo, there's not a trace of hip-hop to be heard on this relatively short thirty-seven minute album.

Bédard frames the album with instrumental pieces and adds others throughout to break up the numerous vocal tracks. In between the ambient orchestral-electronic overture (“Le temps d'observer les voies ouvertes”) and the gently sweeping (untitled) coda, instrumentals range between dreamy ballads (“Exit Mélodie,” “Temps Partiel,” “Figures of a New Color”) filled with rich interweaves of harpsichords, organs, strings, and electronics and slightly more aggressive, uptempo pieces like “Time Difference II.” Representative of the instrumentals' generally dreamy feel, the paradisiacal oasis “Les choses se placent” pairs a glitchy backing of piano and electronics with violincello sawing and a meandering vocodered treatment that recalls Nobukazu Takemura.

While the impact of the album relies less on individual songs and more its cumulative impression, certain songs, especially those with singing, do stand out. “Grand Luxe” evokes a gentle ‘60s pop feel by pairing Ariel Engle's singing with Bédard's equally delicate vocals over a sparkling mix of ringing cymbals, music box sprinkles, organs, and electronics. Similar in spirit, the harpsichord-driven “Perfect Vision” finds Bédard dueting with Amy Millan (Stars and Broken Social Scene) on a song whose breezy melodies recall Stereolab; accompanied by a dense, celestial arrangement of electronics and harpsichords, Millan's gentle vocals also appear on the sunny “Angles, Country & Terrain Connu.” While Bédard is clearly the least accomplished singer of the three, “All I See” provides the perfect vehicle for his soft delivery as he wistfully utters “I have a mind full of you” against a lush backing of glistening harp strums, acoustic guitars, and flute.

Obviously, music of such unadorned innocence won't possess universal appeal; it's easy to visualize a certain kind of listener, for example, cringing at the musical description in the last sentence. But Bédard's album was equally obviously not created with that listener in mind. Those, on the other hand, with an open-hearted appetite for naïve melodies, enchanting pop, and celestial arrangements will discover much to love about the tiny pocket symphonies of Alone, Not Alone.

February 2005