Albums like The Loving Gaze don’t come along very often. They’re sprawling landscapes of musical vision that completely revolutionise the way you think about pop music, perhaps not permanently, but at least for the week after you listen to it. They’re albums you keep going back to in their entirety with no intention of only listening to the single or putting one of the songs on a playlist. There’s a commitment involved in throwing albums like this on, and you know you can’t hit pause until the final second of the final track.
The Loving Gaze is the debut solo project from Montero (Ben Montero), who I first encountered under the guise of Ben Montero Notebook, an amazing underground comix style artist who’s worked with the coolest of the cool in small acts, illustrating videos for Beaches, doing posters for Goodgod Small Club and illustrating the adventures of Sonny & The Sunsets. Colourful, witty and heartily vulgar, his portfolio is worth checking out if you’re a fan of Monty Python or Fritz the Cat.
A singular artistic concept runs through the album, which came to him in a LA taxi and was cultivated during complete ego isolation while Montero trekked on foot across the El Camino Del Norte in Spain. It’s symphonic, it’s sprawling, it’s open and it’s oh so delicately arranged. You could easily turn your mind off to this record and become lost in the clouds of sound, but doing so would be a great disservice to yourself. Every chorus feels like it’s in the right place and even the parts of the album that take you by surprise are pleasantly executed. The result, interestingly, is a soft-rock inspired epic in the vein of Ariel Pink or MGMT’s Congratulations. It’s heavy on hazy organs, abounds in the chorus/reverb combo and major chords with the brilliance of the desert sun.
I struggle to pick out and dissect particular tracks because I really feel that it’s one of those storytelling albums but there are a few moments that really put a smile on your face. The end of BC seems to fade into infinity, as though it continues to rock out somewhere over the horizon, only for that same energy to return mere seconds later in Dead Heads Come To Dinner, heralded by a drum fill that would bring a tear to the eye of Phil Collins himself. The back end of the album is where the 70’s influences really take off, tracks like Taste the Carbonation approaches the speed and air of proto-punk and Glam Campbell closes the album on a sunny note with 3 minutes of Eno meets 10cc brilliance.
In a world with more music than you can possibly listen to in a lifetime recorded and released every day, it’s interesting and relieving to see that the art of the album is still well and truly alive. Next time you’re asked to control the music at a low key ambien houseparty, throw The Loving Gaze on. Next time you play a long video game without the music muted, hit up The Loving Gaze. Next time you need to drive to Canberra (to see Fun Machine perhaps?), chuck The Loving Gaze on. This is an album for journeys.
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