Record Reviews

The Loving Gaze

Soft-rock shaman Ben Montero leads his eponymous band into audio daydreams and self-made myth on this ambitious debut, writes ANTHONY CAREW.

The inexplicable persistence of religion across the post-Enlightenment centuries is couched in the same Hollywood logic that promises us a Spider-Man reboot per decade: people love a genesis myth. Rock ?n? roll, like any religion, boasts bountiful origin stories: vice-soaked tales in which the macho heroes of the stage earned their superpowers in garages, gutters, and dive bars.

Self-actualising meta-conceptualist that he is, Melburnian soft-rock shaman Ben Montero comes to the party prepared. In the ?Artist’s Statement? that accompanies the release of Montero’s first full-length, The Loving Gaze, he details a ?complete mental/psychological meltdown? whilst in California, which lead to wandering (barefoot?) through Mexican deserts and along the El Camino del Norte, a pilgrim seeking penance for the unforgivable sin of having been in [Treetops](/news/3493431).

?A Viking warrior in pursuit of soft-rock Valhalla, where 10cc and Christopher Cross once piloted their yachts.?

Upon returning to Melbourne, Montero was no longer just another mop-topped sunshine-pop fop in a local scene in which every second dude seems to be named Ben, but now the Nordic-sounding Bjenny, a Viking warrior (in ?brand new foreign uniform?) in pursuit of some soft-rock Valhalla, ?Clear Sailing? his longship towards those endless horizons where 10cc and Christopher Cross once piloted their yachts. There’s probably some Dave Grohl-esque, tried-and-true rock ?n? roll folktale that Montero’s bassist-to-frontman switch could be compared to, but this wasn’t a lateral move, stepping over one spot on stage. Instead it was a reawakening, a way of liberating the songwriter from the prism of the rock band, the artist dreaming of turning himself into a ?human power chord.?

In rebellion to Melbourne’s pub-rockist orthodoxy, Montero may have been playing the iconoclast, but the trail he set out on came pre-blazed; this path seeming, these days, as well-trodden as that to [Santiago de Compostela]( As much as it’s the smooooth operators of AM radio yore that serve as Montero’s patron saints, he’s really legging it after new-millennial spirit-guides Bobby Conn and Ariel Pink: willingly confusing notions of good and bad taste, and using the currency of decay to stage a conversation on pop-cultural time travel. Putting his own name in the band name, and then recruiting a shit-hot backing band to aid his vision quest.

?Pure cult-of-personality; a leader and his followers.?

And, so, aeons after all the psychological-meltdown/spiritual-rebirth stuff, and three years after first rolling tape, The Loving Gaze finally arrives with Montero meaning both Man and Band; the leader of this eponymous project and the six men who commune under its name. The presence of Chapter Music bossman Guy Blackman, Crayon Fields frontman and passive-aggressive solo performer Geoffrey O’Connor, and [Animal](’v=2cEPydnb0Ns)-esque drummer Cameron Potts (of Sandro, Ninetynine, Baseball, Cuba is Japan, etc.) has even found Montero dubbed a ?supergroup?. But – as students of rock mythology will attest – the notion is misplaced: Montero isn’t a collectivist proposition of shared celebrity, but pure cult-of-personality; a leader and his followers.

?Sing your loudest harmony/Visualise the sky with me,? Montero wails on ?Taste the Carbonation (Monkey Outta Me)?, commanding his ranks with the language of the Dear Leader, be it of well-drilled combo or New Age-y [be-in]( The fact that the tune was written to ?test the abilities and muscle of the band? makes it all the more apt.

It’s fun to imagine Montero, a lyrical proponent of love and peace and magic and self-belief, as some behind-the-scenes Beefheart; the three-year genesis of The Loving Gaze* not due to bouncing between studios and engineers (and beginning work as a musical based on the life of the late *Wheel of Fortune starlet Adriana Xenides, from which ?Adriana? is on loan), but monomaniacally chasing elusive perfectionism.

He already scans close to Brian Wilson in this regard: ?Clear Sailing? catches waves and ?Mumbai? begins with ?Life’s a beach,? only Montero himself is – like Wilson – scared of the water; summoning imagery of shore and ocean so as to tap into their totemic power. ?Mumbai? wasn’t written in India – more fertile foreign soil for artistic and/or self-reinvention by barefoot pilgrimage – but during his 40 days in the Calexico desert, the first song for his new project. He summons an imaginary fantasia (?They’ll be dancing already in Mumbai/with a pocket of confetti/and a whole lot of crazy new sounds?) where he’s free to scatter his creative seed.

These aren’t songs about Mumbai, but the Mumbai of the mind; not the sea, but the sea inside. Montero is an artist authoring audio daydreams, then bending reality to fit the self-made myth.


##?The Loving Gaze? comes out today through Mistletone/Inertia. Montero play tonight at Ding Dong Lounge with [Models](/news/4615358) before launching the album in Melbourne on Friday, September 27 at Howler with Andras and Prudence Rees-Lee, and in Sydney on Saturday, October 5 at GoodGod as part of the venue’s [third birthday](/news/4613414).