Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is the new album from Australian cartoonist and musician Montero. It’s out now on Chapter Music.
Until Performer, it’s possible your only exposure to Montero’s world was through his multi-color, psychedelic merch, posters, and album covers for bands like Kurt Vile, POND, Courtney Barnett, and Mac DeMarco. Montero’s pen and ink drawings are at first glance, childlike and earnest, but the more you think about them, the more it’s clear they’re grappling with adult concerns like heartbreak, depression, and living inside of your own head too much and not being able to say what you’re feeling. Performer--for my money, 2018’s best album so far--opens up like that too, in its own way; while the songs here sound like acid-soaked soft rock, the album is actually a raw, wounded album about a tough breakup, and the different ways you try to cope with the heartbreak.
In our interview with Montero last month, he talked vaguely about the very real breakup that catalyzed the songs on Performer, saying he felt like the only thing he could do was just throw his stuff in a bag and disappear. That sense of escape is present from the first song, “Montero Airlines,” which, after its intro of pilot chatter, opens with Montero pleading, “Help, it’s not good for me to be all alone now, alone right now,” before he’s off, flying away from a relationship, even though he says “A part of me needs a part of you.” By the next song, “Aloha,” he’s saying, “And if these changes find us as strangers, well, that’s all right.” The rest of the album, in some ways, is dealing with the fall out; there’s the song where you realize you were probably complicit in a bad relationship because you can’t get out of your own way (“Caught Up In My Own World”), how the only thing that gives you some temporary solace is retreating into substances (“Tokin’ The Night Away), and then realizing your destiny lays elsewhere than in the relationship that you can’t get over (“Destiny”).
The album’s central core is “Vibrations,” the album’s delirious lead single, where Montero “drifts in [his] current form” while wishing his ex well, but also realizing “most of what [he’s] shooting for is meaningless without her.” “I never know to feel, I never know what is real,” Montero sings to himself, before a deep voice answers, “Just be you.” It’s a song that answers a lot of the central concern of the album and Montero’s art in general. How can you make it through tough times, or life in general, if you’re not sure if people are being sincere? By just being yourself and hoping for the best.
While the breakup narrative is an obviously huge part of Performer, it becomes superlative in its sonics, which are a deft melange of ‘70s soft rock (like Bread or Badfinger), early Brian Eno (“Destiny” sounds separated from Here Come The Warm Jets), Bowie if his Let’s Dance vamping happened at the same time as Space Oddity, and on and on. It’s filled with little details that make this consistently rewarding. The absurd--and perfect!--talkbox solo at the end of “Vibrations” that channels Peter Frampton. The Jimmy Buffett drums of “Pilot.” The lounge singer crawl of the title track. The swirling, layered harmonies of “Caught Up In My Own World.” All those minor details make Performer as much of its own universe as Montero’s weird little comics. He didn’t just make an album. He made something you can lose yourself in.
Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, co-produced VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced The Story of Vanguard and The Story of Willie Nelson. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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