There’s really nothing like rockstar hubris to get my critical hackles primed, especially when it comes in the form of a double album. Grandiose as some artistic statements may be in theory, it’s a very rare thing when the actualized idea ends up being something worth spending hours of time wading through. Montt Mardie’s conjoined discs Clocks/Pretender join those scant few in rock history that pay off consistently thematically and in enjoyability.
David Pagmar is the songwriting and arranging brains behind Mardie and he employs some interesting tricks to keep things fresh and smoothly moving. Clocks begins with the expertly self-aware “Too Many Songs Unwritten,” in which Pagmar has a conversation with a long absent relative who tells him, “though I’ve traveled around the world, only this I have learned: there are too many unwritten things you’ll never get to sing.” Of course, over this album’s 20 tracks, Pagmar makes a concerted attempt. Spanning from the breezy orchestral pop of “Set Sail Tomorrow” to the crooner throwback “Let’s Get Away From it All,” from the baroque string swoops of “Travelers” to the minor chord folk tension on “How I Won the War,” it’s obvious he’s absorbed years’ worth of music history. Lyrically, these songs hinge on more constant themes: romance and its highs and lows and escapism. The latter features in exquisitely on the wistful future plans of “Set Sail Tomorrow” and the melancholy moon landing lament of “1969.”
This set’s true innovation comes on its second disc, Pretender, and the collaborations it contains. By handing over half of the sonic duties to each song’s respective contributor, Pagmar ensures that there’s new blood and life pumping through the album’s second half. He cashes in most of his folk-pop allusions for any number of perfect dance floor burners like the strutting euro-disco of “Metropolis” with Le Sport, “My Girlfriend is in the Grand Prix Finals” with Mr. Suitcase and the pure ’70s funk on “Hacienda” with Christian Zellinger.
True to form, that desperate lovelorn heart still shines through the effervescence on Jens Lekman’s dusky country-tinged “Castle in the Sky” and Hello Saferide’s defeated acquiescence on the closing title track. Both border on heartbreaking. It’s not the most pleasing note for this project to end on, but might be the most rewarding, honest and hubris-free.