Confusion lies right at the heart of Bergen, Norway’s beloved DATAROCK. Just ask founder Fredrik Saroea to summarise the band’s history and it’ll make your head spin. On their 2009 album, Red, for instance, they listed almost fifty members, and their musical – released, with unusual transparency, under the name The Musical in 2015 – featured 87 guests. Musicians have come and gone, often come back again, and maybe gone again, always under friendly circumstances, and this open-door policy regularly sees their stage invaded by fans. In fact, Saroea jokes, the main guy in the band has always been the red tracksuit – worn by musicians during DATAROCK’s live performances – for which they’ve become famous. Adding to the confusion, however, even that’s now been replaced by a black one.
DATAROCK’s latest album is called FACE THE BRUTALITY. Try not to read anything too deep into that. “We heard a radio show in Canada with that name back in 2004,” Saroea confides, “and thought it sounded hilariously pretentious. Coming from a city of black metal, and with a background in punk and trash metal, we found the title so utterly wrong for DATAROCK that we've always wanted to use it for an album.”
Bewildering as all this may seem, it does nothing to undermine the sincerity of what DATAROCK do. This, perhaps, is hard to credit, given that FACE THE BRUTALITY features a song with the line “You'll run out of luck/ And in the end you will be flatulent”. There are, too, what one can only describe as Easter Eggs scattered throughout the album: see if you can find the homage to The Faces, or to cult 1985 film, The Goonies. But, while these may appear light-hearted, they’re also indicative of the genuine artistry central to DATAROCK’s playful aesthetic, one that’s drawn upon Talking Heads and Happy Mondays, The Fall and The Stone Roses, Television and Laurie Anderson. FACE THE BRUTALITY, apparently, was also partially inspired by Kyle Dixon’s and Michael Stein’s Stranger Things score. As Saroea so eloquently puts it, “Referencing isn't just something I do for fun, but out of respect for the proud tradition of quality music, a tradition one ought to know pretty well if one aspires to be part of it. As a friend of mine said when we were kids, ‘You know, music isn't a private, personal matter – it's relation-driven individual mastering of tradition and technique’." Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?
FACE THE BRUTALITY is full of tradition and technique: the woozy pop of Ruffle Shuffle, and the laidback groove of Sense Of Reason. Laugh In The Face Of Darkness’s hook remains embedded for hours, as does the wired funk of Everything, and the curt BMX confirms how significant 80s influences have always been for the band, while the agile Feathers & Wax, based upon Plato and the Greek myth of Icarus, provides evidence that Saroea took his education seriously.
The brooding synth pop of the David Lynchian Invitation To Love, meanwhile, appears to be a sincere love song, though no one’s giving much away: “I'm probably gonna make up some story,” Saroea says, “about how it’s really just about a pair of old boxers or shoes I miss.” Then there’s Beautiful Monster, a break-up song full of crunching guitar chords and Bowie-esque backing vocals. In case you think that they’ve lost touch with their juvenile side, however, take a listen to indie rock anthem, Outta Here, or the Ramones flavoured Darkness At The Edge Of The Pit, with its call to arms, “Face the wrath/ Of a Datarock wall of death”. DATAROCK may have grown up, but they haven’t mellowed.
Subversive and mischievous, disarmingly modest, effortlessly entertaining, and as daft as they are heartfelt, DATAROCK have been sorely missing from our lives these unsettling recent years. Their ambitions remain humble – “We hope the next album will reach out and put a smile on our fellow bitter and bored friends around the world” – but FACE THE BRUTALITY might even entertain a handful or two others.
- Wyndham Wallace
- Alternative Rock