Artwork by Heather Mahler.
Who is Ricky Montgomery? As a Vine creator, he’s an antithesis to the hackneyed nature generally associated with some of the app’s top stars: he’s all sharp wit, no triteness. And as a singer-songwriter, he’s much the same.
Montgomery made his official introduction to the music scene nearly two years ago with Caught on the Moon, his debut EP that was greatly anticipated by his substantial online following and was (not surprisingly) met with universal acclaim. Off that high, Montgomery gathered up his moxie and did what a lot of up-and-coming musicians only ever sit and think of doing: he wrote a full-length album. Montgomery Ricky was released in the late hours of March 31 — 45 minutes before originally slated, an adorably wholesome April Fools’ joke — and I immediately devoured it. I have half a mind to pull a Connie Francis and climb to the highest steeple to tell the world about it. To save face (and my dignity), I’m hoping a track-by-track review of Montgomery’s debut will suffice.
With a boy-down-the-street charm reminiscent of Michael Moscovitz (M&M-freckled keyboard and all), the opening track of Montgomery Ricky sits comfortably in the top tier of alt-pop catchiness. It’s melodically marvelous, with particular regard to the lyrical repetition — “I’m alright if you’re alright, and I’m OK if you’re OK” — that grows slightly pointed toward the song’s end. A total gem.
“Line Without a Hook”
Markedly winsome, “Line Without a Hook” is a waltz: The lilting instrumentation moves you along in triple time with a guiding hand between your shoulder blades, but Montgomery’s words keep you lingering. Its warmth is tangible. And the tiny pinging of a ballerina music box woven throughout? Clever and beautiful, and enough to make this track my favorite on the album.
Track three is Neapolitan ice-cream. You’ve got a cool, crisp take on the kitschiness of ’80s new-wave in the verses and a throwback to mid-aughts beach jams in the song’s chorus. Both melt into the final layer: a drum-driven acapella ending that’s begging to be chanted by a crowd of thousands. “Cabo” is delicious, giving you everything you could want and then some.
“Dont Know How”
In the best way imaginable, “Dont Know How” is ambiguous; all steam and synth on the one hand and dirt and depth on the other. (It’s also hauntingly addictive, but that’s almost to be expected from Montgomery.) The merits of “Dont Know How” exist in its fluidity — it doesn’t try, or want, to be pinned down. On all levels, it’s a song that happens to you, not for you.
“Last Night” & “California”
If Montgomery Ricky was an Oreo, “Last Night” and “California” would be the creme filling, splitting the album delectably down the middle with punchy guitars, tart vocals and a healthy dose of adrenaline. Tracks five and six take the phrase “all killer, no filler” seriously — you could live vicariously off the songs’ electricity for days.
“My Heart Is Buried in Venice” & “Mr Loverman”
Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie had a baby, and then that baby (Bright Cab for Cutie, or Death Eyes?) had a baby with a hybrid of Ben Folds’s “The Luckiest” and Brendon Maclean’s “The Feeling Again” to make these almost-acoustic almost-ballads. The pair of songs — that feel like two halves of a full story — are both wholly tender. Montgomery’s sweetly supple and altogether unmatched voice lends itself to his lyrics in a way that will leave you teary-eyed and nostalgic.
“Get Used to It”
The album’s penultimate track feels like the slick younger brother of a tune off 2008’s Vampire Weekend. With its staccato-ed tweeness and cheeky lyrics that warrant repeat listens (“Used to go to university / Used to be the head of varsity / Used to live inside this box with everyone noticin’ me”), “Get Used to It” is modern coolness materialized.
We end as we began: with something powerful. “Snow” seems to capture the essence of a coming-of-age era that chronicles the crests and troughs of a metamorphosis, and it hurts so good. I dare you to escape this song with an unchanged heart.
Montgomery’s first full-length album is an eclectic anthology of songs that belong in a league entirely of their own. It’s introspective without being self-indulgent, inspired without being vapid and extrovertive without feeling like it’s pandering to the back rows. In all, Montgomery Ricky is a triumph for the almost-23-year-old artist, an undeniable catalyst toward a sparkling career in music at which audiences will marvel with wide eyes and ineluctable wonder.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)
Montgomery Ricky is released under Crescent Heights Records, available for purchase on iTunes here. It will be available on Spotify and other platforms April 8.