There are two kinds of albums. There is the kind that’s strung together over a few months of writing and recording, released to the public in the hope for royalties; nothing more, nothing less.
Then there is the kind that defies this definition. The kind of album that is more than a collection of songs, one that becomes a collection of thoughts and feelings explored through music. The kind of albums that are more about the story behind the lyrics than the lyrics on the page.
Performer is one of those albums.
On Performer Montero flies like the astronaut; trapped within his own devices, yet uncompromisingly free to reach for the stars.
It’s understandable if you don’t recognise Montero by name, but if you’ve had any participation in the indie music scene over past few years, chances are you’re familiar with his work. Although he has released music in the past, Ben Montero is most famous for his work as an artist.
His artwork has donned the albums covers and posters for artists like POND, Kurt Vile and Mac Demarco, while his comic-strip inspired vignettes have developed a dedicated following of his own. However, Montero’s art goes hand in hand with his new album.
Performer was co-produced by Montero, Riccardo Damien and Jay Watson (of Tame Impala and POND fame), the latter of whom injects his signature blend of psychedelia and pop into the production (although it’s more POND than Tame).
Upon first listening, it’s easy to dismiss the album as a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill product of the cosmic pop variety. In fact it isn’t until the final song Pilot where everything comes full circle. What Montero has done on this album is construct a fine narrative running through each song, and not in an American Idiot or The Wall kind of way. I mean the whole album is tied together by a string of recurring emotions.
Performer is an introverted album. It is a self-prophesising, self-deliberating saga of one person’s constant fear of being inadequate and the ever-present desire for something more. In the album’s opener Montero Airlines, Montero bellows “Help, it’s not good for me to be all alone”.
Pair this with the distorted, inaudible chatter laid above a solo piano, it’s hard not to empathise with the loneliness. The same could be said for space jam Running Race, where he cries “Deep inside of me, no one’s home” over a chorus of whistles and beeps.
This loneliness and self-contemplation isn’t a new theme for Montero. His signature cartoons often feature alien-like characters pondering banal and trivial (i.e. human) things. Things like ‘Am I holding my elbow too high?’ when one green character takes sips from his coffee, or when one tells another that ‘It’s okay to feel lonely’.
But the album isn’t just all doom and gloom. “How would you like to taste the lips of victory?” he croons on penultimate track Destiny. As he sings “there is our destiny bounding on the shore”, it’s clear that this narrator is seeking new life.
This is confirmed in the chorus of the album closer, Pilot. “Ready to go where the wind’s gonna blow, I’m gonna prove I’m a pilot”. If Montero was a detached passenger on board Montero Airlines at the album’s dawn, he’s now the commanding officer, ready to take on whatever is thrown his way.
Much like a good film, this album deserves at least two listens to be appreciated. Performer fits together so well that it might be hard to differentiate between individual songs. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of songs on albums I love whose names I can’t remember for the life of me.
If I’m being totally honest, it took a good year to tell the second half of Innerspeaker apart. But when they come on, I’m into it. Montero is just the same, and I’m already looking forward to album number two.