What’s happened to disco between 2005 and now? Well, soon after Datarock released their debut for the first time, Madonna got in on the disco train with Confessions on a Dance Floor, so you knew this re-emergent genre had some legs and some cultural resonance. Then there was new Sophie Ellis-Bextor, new Scissor Sisters, more from !!!, Sally Shapiro earlier this year, and… how could we forget Mika. I’m mentioning the commercial side of things — Lindstrom’s doing disco in a much more inventive and idiosyncratic way — because this is the sliding scale into which Datarock fits.
Bergen’s fueled more than its share of musicians, and has really earned its stripes as the pop hotbed of Norway. There’s a real sense of camaraderie in the little harbour between the hills, and Datarock’s in the middle of it. It’s romantic to think of Fredrik Saroea and Ketil Mosnes sitting around some way-cooler-than-you’d-ever-get-in bar with Annie, the guys of Röyksopp, and Kings of Convenience, and at least to some extent they share some twisted pop sensibility. Datarock are the most slyly ironic. From the very first, when they exploded in 2005, there was a natural coagulation with someone like Greenskeepers, whose Hannibal Lechter appropriation “Lotion” was just as kitschy, twice as creepy. How can you avoid it, on “Computer Camp Love”? If you haven’t heard it, the song is modeled on “Summer Lovin'” but is twisted together with Revenge of the Nerds and with tongue firmly in cheek. “Did you put up a fight?… Idon’tthinkso”. That song was written in 2003 and, of course, it got played out, and at its heart it is pretty much a novelty. It’s strange to be still writing about it now, but the damn thing still makes you smile.
And that’s kind of the problem. The U.S. version of Datarock Datarock may be somewhat pasteurized, ditching the über-gay “Night Flight to Uranus” and the commercial-baiting “Maybelline”, but the bulk of the record is so familiar from a previous round of peri-release hype that, like last year’s Mylo release, the album plays like a stream of familiar hits. It might be a case of too late to properly join the disco party, but that doesn’t mean not worthwhile for those unfamiliar with the group. You’ll just have to suspend some of the saturation you may have reached in the meantime… drift back to the heady days of 2005 for just 50 minutes and dance ironically, irony-free. Nod head to “Fa Fa Fa”‘s dance-rock goodness; wiggle more to the deadpan disco pronouncements of “Sex Me Up”. In this ever-changing musical landscape of ours, sometimes it’s nice to return to an old friend.
The three new tracks included on out Datarock Datarock are slightly more sophisticated than the earlier material, but fit in neatly enough. “Gaburo Girl” is a half-winking, sweet ballad to Tokyo and the “Gaburo girls” — is he talking about a prostitute? An underage girl? The strings are so lush you’re hard-pressed to care much. “See What I Care” almost Fujiya & Miyagi-esque in its understated rock vibe, an easy synth background and smooth vocals building in texture to something more forceful, more anguished. And “New Song” crashes with real punk viciousness, except Saroea’s shouting about MIT and EMI.
Datarock Datarock is still a sweet confection, but its subtleties make it a continued pleasure to listen to. The U.S. release is way past due, but to lament the fact and pass over the album again would be a graver mistake. It’s no masterpiece complexity-wise but the flashy showmanship and carefree sexuality continue to stake a claim for relevance. In the mire of samey electro pop, at their best Datarock are a little bit of disco heaven.