Montaigne, AKA Jess Cerro, has gone from strength to strength since first coming into the public eye as a finalist in the Triple J Unearthed High competition in 2012. Her debut album Glorious Heights back in 2016 peaked at number 4 on the ARIA charts and earned her the ARIA award for ‘Breakthrough Artist Release’. The 24-year-old singer-songwriter has once again returned to the spotlight with her second album offering, Complex, covering everything from body image issues to domestic abuse to loneliness.
Lead track ‘CHANGE’ certainly starts the album on a strong note. The electronic riff which plays throughout quickly gets stuck in your head while perfectly accompanying Montaigne’s bright and playful vocals. The use of rolling drums throughout as well as the bridge takes the song down a more anthemic route, with her vocals taking on a chant-like tone. In terms of an album opener, ‘CHANGE’ provides the perfect introduction to the album while also maintaining the brilliantly eccentric sound that we have come to expect from Montaigne.
Title track ‘Complex’ certainly lives up to its name. The song is definitely complex in both its musical structure and lyrical content. Musically, the song follows a typical pop structure, but the way that Cerro transitions between sections is where the beauty of the song lies, seamlessly switching between almost chant-like vocals and stunning melodies. This is a track which it will be very exciting to come alive in a live setting.
‘For Your Love’, the first single released from the album in November last year, has been described by Cerro as a darker, more revealing version of ‘Because I Love You’ off Glorious Heights. The track definitely takes on a more somber tone than the first two songs, a pleasant contrast to the majority of the album.
‘Losing My Mind’ takes on a more electronic pop feel, immediately launching into a pulsing drumbeat, reminiscent of 80’s pop anthems. The lyrics however heavily contrast with this upbeatness, addressing one of Montaigne’s lowest periods in terms of her health. The line “I thought that I could push my body, but then it gave out on me” perfectly sums up the themes of the song – sometimes everything is not as it seems on the surface
Track 5 ‘Love Might Be Found (Volcano)’ sounds like it could slot right into the soundtrack of Stranger Things, with its repetitive synth lines. The standout of this song is most definitely Montaigne’s vocals, which soar above the instrumentals, particularly in the recurring ‘Love might be found’ motif, which rounds out the song.
‘The Dying Song’s title is somewhat misleading – with a name like that you’d be forgiven for expecting a bleak, morbid track, which this is anything but. This song is very reminiscent of the best parts of Glorious Heights, with the vocals and instrumentals blending together perfectly to create a lively, upbeat track which will be super exciting to see performed live.
The transition from ‘The Dying Song’ to ‘Showyourself’ almost gives you emotional whiplash. Gone are the poppy instrumentals and vocals and what we are left with is the stripped (and arguably most vulnerable) version of Montaigne – just her hauntingly beautiful vocals and a piano. It is most definitely a hidden highlight of the album.
‘Please You’ is almost the perfect bridge between the previous two tracks, starting quietly but building and building until it almost impossible to count just how many layers of sound are present. It shows off some of the best parts of Montaigne’s voice in my opinion, qualities that can only be shown in a very specific kind of song.
The Dave Sitek produced track ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ brings a different kind of sound to the album, a somewhat fragmented track that while not necessarily nice to listen to, definitely leaves you with a lot of intense feelings, especially when paired with the lyrics centered around an abusive relationship.
The beginning of ‘Pleasure’ reminds me of a music box, beginning softly with typically pretty vocals, before building into a powerful reminder of the fine line between pleasure and pain and how one person’s pleasure can result in another’s pain.
‘is this all i am good for?’, which Montaigne described as being perfect to listen to when walking alone at night, is another highlight of the album. A deep dive into body image issues, the track sheds light on one of the most prevalent issues in modern society in a simple yet effective way. Montaigne’s vocals are again the very worthy focus in a percussion-based track, something which would indeed sound wonderful while walking alone at night.
The penultimate song ‘I am a Clown’ again showcases Montaigne’s vocals (a very common occurrence across the album) over a string and percussion, Middle Eastern infused track. The song slots perfectly in amongst the rest of the album, while also providing a stark contrast to a lot of the instrumentals and vocals heard throughout the album.
The final, and my personal favourite track, ‘READY’, ends the album on a decidedly anthemic note. There is a reason this is the final track on the album – the recurring ‘I think I’m ready to go’ lyric throughout stems from the self-realisation that she has moved on from all of the issues addressed within the album. It is certainly a song that deserves to be capitalised and the perfect way to end such an emotional and powerful album.
Overall, Complex is a journey, providing extensive into Montaigne’s life whilst writing and recording the album, but also one which almost everyone will be sure to draw similarities with. As far as second albums go, this is undeniably an impressive offering from such a young artist. Montaigne is most definitely a name which will be sticking around the Australian music industry for a long time yet.
Review – Jess Oehm