Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Monopot: Optipess

Small Town Supersound

While still a part of Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden are a bit different when it comes to exportation of bands. For every future Hives or Sahara Hotnights banking on the large garage rock riffs in Stockholm, there is the mild and contemplative singer songwriter such as Sondre Lerche evolving in Oslo. But one group that is eliminating any such comparisons is Monopot, a trio who brings the nuances of Mogwai with a fraction of Mercury Rev theatrics. Nominated in 1999 for a Norwegian Grammy Award for best album, the band has only raised their level of musicianship on this sophomore release.

Starting off with “Diamant”, the group rarely loses control of the songs. Working its way into this slow and down tempo track, one doesn’t know if it’s about to break out into a Yo La Tengo assault or if the group is waiting for the pedal steel guitarist to wake up. This is an interesting balance, particularly since the tempo never changes. Changing slightly after the two-minute mark, but still as deliberate as ever, Monopot could be mistaken for Jeff Beck on tranquilizers. The background noise becomes more prominent as does the tension, moving into a murky, psychedelic soundscape. Atmosphere is a large and vital area to the group, one that they succeed at here for six interesting minutes. “Aloft” begins with an early Floydian guitar riff before vocals are placed over it. The vocals seem to float above the track for the most part, a trait the band uses to balance the heavy and light sonic tug of war. It’s a fine line to tread and one they seem to enjoy walking. The song seems to be rather short, but only after seeing four-minute elapse is the listener amazed at the flow.

Monopot appears to be a very good moniker, as a lot of influences are thrown into its pot. The electronica texture introducing “Erlingvik” might seem wasted. Yet the group does enough with the song to keep it moving down the appropriate path. The conclusion is rather odd however, resembling a motorcycle or some motor turning off in the distance. “Bomb of Bliss” never makes a great dent musically, opting instead for an extremely deliberate format. It’s a slow dancer’s slow dance to put it mildly, one that would put you to sleep for good or bad reasons. An eclectic cover choice is the eerie and murmuring “Sebastian”, a song made somewhat famous by Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebels. “Somebody called me Sebastian”, is sung over a repetitive rudimentary organ structure. After listening to the track, you may want to check under the bed for ghosts.

Despite the minimal quality, only one track comes across like the Velvet Underground. “The Arc and the Beagle” has a definite “Sweet Jane” touch to it, whether it’s the ebb and flow of the guitar or the basic but ever-present drumbeat. A harmonica is added here also, giving it a Cowboy Junkies vibe that is uplifting. A stutter step can be discerned before going back to square one nearly four minutes into it. An organic and orchestral slant makes “Scena Napoletana” the highlight. From the sounds of the guitar neck being caressed to the subtle loop of sound blending with it, it’s pretty without becoming highbrow.

With vocals that evoke images of a deathbed in instances, “The Beginning” has a roots-like music tone, squeezing everything out of the harmonica, guitar and what appears to be a child’s toy piano. Concluding along parallel lines is “Smalltown Superbored”, one of the best titles to come in years. “Rock on,” the lyric goes with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Monopot needs a great amount of restraint to sound this minimal. Nonetheless, this album achieves the sound that is so soothing to hear but infinitely more difficult to create.