For those of you familiar with the music of Monta At Odds (a phrase that I’ll be using again later), you know that they have their own ideas of how best to use electronics and percussion and various other tools of the trade to create aural canvases that somehow combine both retro and futuristic influences. Some of their earlier work was described by someone—okay, it was me—as a soundtrack to a 1950s French film noir, only cooler. With their latest release, Robots of Munich on Haymaker Records, their focus has shifted to a cinematically-inspired imagining of a world a bit into the future in which machines are at the forefront—and some have fled to the Southern Hemisphere to pursue their longing to be more like one of us. More on that later.
Over the years, the band has made numerous appearances throughout Kansas City and Lawrence, and for a while it seemed as if you might see a new lineup at every other show. Monta has gone through several rosters but is now a muscular seven-piece, if memory serves from their appearance at KC Psychfest (P.S. I checked – memory does serve). Dedric and Delaney, the brothers Moore, remain the stalwarts of the group, with Delaney on keys, Dedric as bassist and bandleader, and both sharing songwriting and vocal duties (according to Dedric, he’s the McCartney of the brothers; Delaney is the Lennon).
Another of Dedric’s strengths is his ability to creatively package Monta music in such a way that when you purchase a physical copy, you’re getting something that’s as visually artistic as it is musically. From a CD stored in a very-past-its-prime floppy disc case to a clear vinyl album in a clear plastic jacket, the work of Monta At Odds is not hard to recognize. Robots will continue that tradition with a cover that is stylishly cut and protects a red vinyl album. The interior of the jacket will unfold to go into detail the connections between the music, a well-known sci-fi movie, and a well-known sci-fi novel. It’s a very ambitious undertaking to say the least. As Dedric said when asked about the origins of the album name, “(It) came from the movie Android which was sourced from the same book as Blade Runner. It was a news broadcast that the robots of Munich had been destroyed in their rebellion. It came out the same year as Blade Runner and crashed into oblivion immediately. That started the ball rolling with the concept of a handful of androids escaping and fleeing to South America (where all war criminals end up, right?). We then took inspiration from the theme of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about where has our humanity gone and what actually makes us human.”
A pro-tip before you begin: it’s best to be in a dark place when listening to Monta At Odds. Not dark emotionally—actual darkness. Dimly lit. Illuminationally challenged. At a gig or while driving your car at night would be great. If listening through headphones is a viable option… take it.
For those of you familiar with the music of Monta At Odds (told you), you know that vocals are not of prime importance to the band’s output. Instrumentals are the more commonplace method of expression (six of the ten tracks on Robots are sans words), and when lyrics are enabled, their clarity can tend to be lost amid a swirl of waves and swooshes and reverb. This is by design, as the work of Tom Vek of the ultra-trippy Black Moth Super Rainbow is an obvious influence to the production used by Monta. The aim is to make the vocals sound more like an instrument than an individual, and “Salty Air Breezes” leads off the album with just such verbal distortion. The song tells of the story’s protagonist trying to blend in on Earth while searching for an escape to a place touted by a television commercial as a sunny, idyllic refuge. Yearning to leave behind the “beggars, bums, and nuns in the metro transit underground,” she puts “5000 revs on the poor fiat for hours on end” in an attempt to find safety and serenity.
The common theme of robot-wanting-to-be-human is expressed in the next track, “Android Dreams” (voiced by Monta alum and percussionist Mika Tanaya). The song itself is a paradox, as the lyrical desires to “be beautiful / feel love / share laughter / maybe feel pain” are expressed in a very staccato, sterile, mechanical fashion. Such is the dichotomy of the android’s life—if “android” and “life” aren’t themselves a dichotomy when used next to each other. These deep musings are to be contemplated as Robots continues its journey—and our heroine continues her search for existence that transcends zeros and ones.
Now, for those of you familiar with the music of Monta At Odds (see?), you know that their music likes to take its time and tell a story, letting development unfold in an unhurried manner … all of which is just fancy talk for “their music is mostly downtempo to midtempo in its pacing.” Which is all the more reason why I cannot stop myself from listening to “Relentless Pursuit” on repeat. This is 130 seconds of no-holds-barred rock, complete with some of the most incredible slide space guitar I’ve heard in a while. I was standing next to recordBar co-owner Steve Tulipana when I first heard this track at KC Psychfest, and it was pretty clear that it was his first time hearing it as well. When the tune got going, he and I turned to each other with eyes wide open in looks of mutual astonishment and approval. This was music designed to be the backdrop of an interstellar chase scene, as if those Dukes of Hazzard boys had taken the Millennium Falcon for a joy ride.
Robots of Munich is another leap forward for Monta At Odds and their electronic mission to expand minds. When I heard their set at KC Psychfest (and I think this year’s event at recordBar was the best one so far), I had a feeling the new album was going to be something worthy of more than a little consideration for mentions on some best of 2014 lists. After having heard the finished product, I stand by that statement.
I consider myself to be very familiar with the music of Monta At Odds … and I’m totally okay with that.