A glue stick. A can of paint. Acrylic. Some yarn. A few Scrabble pieces. Clothespins. The cover of Montag’s sophomore effort, Going Places, may as well be the desk drawer of any grade-school art teacher. But with over a half dozen featured contributors, not to mention samples taken from an open call to fans, no other album cover this year properly conveys the collaborative spirit of its featured artist.
The obvious reference point for most listeners coming in to Going Places would be the work of Jimmy Tamborello. Falling between his more abstract constructions as Dntel and the straight-up pop vibe of the Postal Service, Going Places is easily Montag’s most accessible album to date. While his previous album Alone, Not Alone was a solid effort, it seemed to consciously subverted any clear-eyed, melodic songwriting. Whatever reservations Antoine Bedard may have had about embracing pop structures full-on, he has cast them aside here, as Going Places is his most assured and accomplished work to date.
As on his previous disc, Montag gets by with a little help of his friends. The disc kicks off, with the soaring, sweeping statement, “I Have Sound”. Thus it’s no surprise that Anthony Gonzales of M83—no stranger to widescreen compositions himself—guests on vocals and keyboards. Dramatic in scope for the first three quarters of the song, Montag finally reveals his true self—glitchy and buoyant—in the track’s final moments, which wonderfully set up the first song proper, and one of the few without a guest, “Best Boy Electric”. Here the strengths of Bedard’s skills as a writer and composer come to the fore. He is remarkably adept at balancing the twee nature of his voice and snappy beats with clever movements and sly maneuvers around typical song structures. Indeed, the word “soundscape” is often bandied about when discussing Montag’s works, and “322 Water”, featuring Ida Nilsen, easily fits into that category. A gently building and undulating track, it keeps Nilsen and Bedard’s slight voices in the centre as the synths, blips and strings swell wonderfully around them. At other times, a traditionally built song like “Safe In Sound”, featuring Amy Millan’s always excellent vocals, highlights Bedard’s ability to navigate this terrain and make it his own with truly original electronic sculptures. There are so many little details coming at you it’s easy to forget that the song itself is, when stripped to the bone, fairly straightforward.
The only time Montag stumbles are on the overt attempts at more avant garde songs. “Hi-5 Au DJ” is oddly tedious, though the typical musical ingredientsare present. There is something about the stuttering progression that makes the song somewhat of a chore to sit through. Likewise, the self-described “man-on-man opera” “Softness, I Forgot Your Name” with Owen Pallett doesn’t excite or romance the way one would hope. But these moments don’t last long, and as the disc opened large, it ends large too. The closing title track assembles seventy odd samples taken from an open call and uses every one of them. But it once again speaks to Bedard’s exceptional ear and careful consideration that it doesn’t come off like a parlor trick. Indeed, “Going Places”—both the song and the album—highlight the talents of a remarkably humble and low-key innovator. While his songs may on the surface appear as little more than electronic trifles, once you bite in, it’s the filling that truly surprises.