You look at Datarock — two scruffy Norwegian gentlemen dressed in huge sunglasses and matching red track suits — and you expect schtick, some kind of hipster retro novelty act. Those expectations aren’t wrong. Not entirely. On their debut LP, Datarock Datarock, Fredrik Saroea and Ketil Mosnes demonstrate a tweaked sense of humor and a knack for musical showmanship. They seem capable of copping virtually any musical genre, from punk to new wave, from funk to disco, and they can do it pretty convincingly. But to what effect?
If nothing else, the album features some high-energy tunes that fit easily into dance punk or new rave or whatever indie-dance genre happens to be hot at the moment. Datarock’s tunes take their time setting up a groove, but once they hit it, Saroea and Mosnes work the hell out of it. Check out the dueling funk guitars of “Fa-Fa-Fa” and the trippy looped/reversed vocals that conclude “I Used to Dance with My Daddy.” And there are moments of pure goofy pop entertainment. “Computer Camp Love” is a hilarious tale of geeky adolescent romance, complete with a brilliant reference to “Summer Nights” from Grease. “I Will Always Remember,” the duet with fellow Norwegian popster Annie, is a gooey scoop of sleazy lounge-disco. It lays on the sentiment so thick it damn near pushes through the Irony Zone and comes out genuinely touching on the other side.
The results aren’t quite so impressive when Datarock tries to muster up rock ‘n’ roll aggression. Though amusing, the “BMX is better than sex” hook on “Bulldozer” doesn’t justify the shiftless guitar noodling that precedes it. And though vocalist Saroea tries his damnedest to howl like a rock god, his voice sometimes lets him down. That makes “Princess” and “Sex Me Up,” for example, a bit uncomfortable to sit through. This isn’t to say the group is incapable of “getting serious” when the mood strikes. “The Most Beautiful Girl” is earnest Casio-pop, and “Gaburo Girl” is sexy Shibuya-kei pop in the vein of Pizzicato Five.
This music isn’t overburdened with substance. But the group infuses its songs with enough groove, style and, yes, occasionally schtick, that it shouldn’t be missed.