A picturesque September sunset, an indoor pool, and a sultry jazz club — M.O.N.T.’s Listen Up! has it all. Two mixtapes were released prior to this EP: “Aqua Tape” and “Burgundy Tape”, colors befitting their respective sonic and conceptual aspects. “September Hills” and “Anti-Hero” are two new tracks that are specific to Listen Up!, but have no explicit color theme. One would think that continuing along the color spectrum or some flavor of rainbow concept would be the expected move for Listen Up! but the boys do no such thing.
While the colors may have corresponded to an intended concept and mood when they were initially released, Listen Up! subverts our expectations and showcases the group’s stunning versatility instead.
Looking at the overall theme a little differently now, each song represents a different persona or quality that the members possess: happy-go-lucky, sensuality, hubris, lovesick innocence, melancholy, and laziness. In tandem with the last two mixtapes, all the tracks were released in contrasting themes. “Boom Bang” is happy-go-lucky while “lethargy” is laziness. Likewise, “Shadow” is sensuality and “Moonlight” is melancholy or sentimentality. New songs “Anti-Hero” and “September Hills” are hubris and innocence respectively.
Brilliantly showcasing all of these outward personas, sonic styles, and contrasting songs, Listen Up! is a mature, versatile, and brilliant release especially considering they primarily compose and produce all their own music.
The title track “Anti-Hero” was an interesting pick to frame the album. The song is a spitfire, no-nonsense romp that paints the boys as anti-heroes out to “make [their] history” claiming that we, the listener, can not escape their aspirations and “can never hide.” No colorful theme to be found, Roda, Narachan, and Bitsaeon personify hubris itself: proud, boastful, and mildly irreverent. In fact, the members are clad in black clothes with techwear styled belts and accessories.
There are a couple of different settings in the MV, one of which is a car filmed likely from a pretend dashcam, an open field filmed from a drone, and a rural, undisclosed street where the boys stomp around and disturb the peace. Jamming to the song, the members (especially Narachan, that red makeup is a lot) exhibit an almost Joker-ish craziness, with Narachan even binding himself with the seatbelts in the car.
On its own, the song is engaging, unbridled fun. The addictive “na nanana nana na” overlaid with a low-tone slap bass, trap drum set, and the group’s vocals fit the not-quite antagonist, anti-hero bad boys well. It is almost jarring opposite soft, peaceful “September Hills.” The song itself is not intricate, but it does deeply contrast the songs on the album, sounding more trap than jazz or pop.
In contrast, Narachan’s self-composed and lyricized “September Hills” is a soft, lovesick ballad on a lonely road that looks like it was filmed near the setting of “Anti-Hero.” In a fluffy white sweater, the mountains in the background, and a sunset on the horizon, Narachan embodies love and innocence. He sings of a “love that seemed to warm up the world” as he flutteringly stares directly into the spinning camera amidst the open skies.
One of the most interesting visuals in the video thought is the color saturation in the fields around Narachan. When the song starts, the grass around him is a soft yellow, illuminated by the already setting sun, but as the introduction melts into the first verse, the colors slowly change to a moody blue-violet. As the video progresses, the grass morphs into other shades of purple, yellow, and even orange-red. The shifting colors paired with sweeping rock sound sampling and Narachan’s sentimental vocals make the song look and sound like a sweet and soft lovesick power ballad.
Burgundy Tape, released in late August, features heavy jazz influence and is filmed in the Boogie Woogie jazz club in Seoul. The group song “Shadow” is sexy, sassy, and a little drunken. As the members stumble through a club, drink in hand, they entice us to tell them our deepest wishes as they succumb to their own insatiable desires.
The texture and timbre of the song closely resembles a standard jazz combo, but with some additional electronic layering. To top it off are Bitsaeon’s scatting and Narachan’s nonsense “laridari feel like I’m drunk yeah” that harkens back to the improvisations of jazz singers and crooners. It has a vintage feel and sensuality to it that pulls one in and leaves one feeling just as breathless as the members describe themselves feeling in the lyrics.
Complimentary track “Moonlight” is a classic acoustic ballad that sees Bitsaeon in a simple white shirt singing about telling his true thoughts only to the moonlight, a sentiment many can likely relate to, especially this year.
Framed in a simple 12-bar blues, it sounds melancholic and contemplative, complemented by Bitsaeon’s delicate falsetto. Creating beauty out of simplicity can be difficult but M.O.N.T. does it with finesse.
Composed by Bitsaeon himself, the simplicity and acoustic backing let the song breathe and make it sound like an authentic jazz ballad you would hear from a professional jazz musician. Like “Shadow,” there is also a tasteful bit of scatting as well as a trumpet solo in the second half. There is no intricate camera work, glitz, or complex set, it is only Bitsaeon on the stage at the Boogie Woogie singing to a seemingly unsuspecting crowd that even casually walks in front of the camera.
The last two contrasting tracks, both from Aqua Tape, are the oldest previous releases out of all the songs on the album. “Boom Bang” is a fun party song with summer vibes and an upbeat, youthful message. All three of the boys are seen having a party in an indoor pool with lyrics that reference “surfin’ in the waves,” “champagne,” and “it’s your break day.” The colors are bright, fun, and cartoonish words in sync with the lyrics add a fun, hyperactive touch to the overall vibe of the song.
Conceived in the midst of quarantine in both America and South Korea, “Boom Bang” captures the essence of reckless abandon with nowhere to go and a desire to make the most out of everyone’s forced staycation. The track is not particularly complex and sounds like a standard summer song, but it perfectly personifies the happy-go-lucky persona of the members.
Opposite “Boom Bang” is “Lethargy,” which sounds exactly like you would imagine given the definition is “a lack of energy and enthusiasm; a pathological state of sleepiness or deep unresponsiveness and inactivity.” The song is slow and the instrumentals slide into each other lazily, obscuring the harmonies.
It is a solo song by Roda, but the other members make a cameo to share snacks and coax Roda out of his lethargy, much to his chagrin. Pastel colors and an array snacks surround Roda as he lazily dozes on a couch and snacks his boredom away. He doesn’t want to wake up from his dream and urges everyone to “leave [him] alone, just for today” only wanting to “lie under the blankets and rest.” Laziness and boredom are exemplified through the MV imagery and the compositional techniques Roda employs.
It is almost staggering how many different styles, themes, and musical timbres that M.O.N.T. show throughout this album. Each song is a different persona and color of the members, and it really shows their maturity and the evolution of their compositional styles. It is somewhat rare that everything is self-composed down to the lyrics, musical composition, and production, but M.O.N.T. truly do it all. Hopefully others will “listen up” in the future, and M.O.N.T. will begin getting the recognition they continue to work hard for.
(YouTube , Lexico, Images via Fly Music Entertainment)