The debut album Cruisin' Alaska by The Weatherman (aka
Portuguese indie pop sensation Alexandre Monteiro) is an interesting
album. I call it "interesting" because every time I listen
it, I have an entirely different opinion of it. After listening to
it about ten to fifteen times, I know one thing for sure: I've got
to hand it to Monteiro for his willingness to experiment. The Weatherman
sounds like what might happen if The Beach Boys and Syd
Barrett joined hands and sang "Cum Bai Ya"; or if Elliott
Smith listened to The Beatles every day of his life, played
every instrument under the sun, added some fancy keyboarding and sound
bytes, and went frolicking through a field of daisies instead of using
Monteiro's music originates from a genre not too far from acts such
as Spoon and Of Montreal, but he has taken many unexpected
turns with it. Just when you think you've gotten one track figured
out, it evolves into an entirely new entity. It's difficult to see
this coming, since the album opens with one of the exceptions to this
rule, "About Harmony." This song is a perfect model of how
the listener expects the rest of the album to sound: upbeat, Rooney-esque
tunes, appropriately laden with harmonious croons and blissful lyrics
about love and sunshine. It was a wise choice for a first track because
it shoots you up with a healthy dose of indie pop. The tracks after
this do not necessarily follow in "About Harmony"'s footsteps.
While some are equally as upbeat, they do not adhere to a verse-chorus-verse
pattern, nor do they always require a catchy hook, and their lyrics
become increasingly ambiguous. The second track, "Looking For
Guarantees," is one of many tracks that sound as if Monteiro
has taken several individual songs and embedded them into one. It
starts with a sing-songy, circus-like melody, followed by a bridge
consisting of Monteiro repeating the lines, "I just can't live
in a cage like this/So I'm looking for guarantees," and a maniacal
choir echoing back these same words. The ending is a soft piano-driven
piece, complete with Monteiro's dreamy "ooh's" and "ahh's."
The Polyphonic Spree-reminiscent "If You Only Had One
Wish", while similarly radio-friendly as "About Harmony,"
almost sounds like a different artist altogether. "I Sustain"
sounds like The Shins until about ¾ of the way into
the song, when the aura and tempo suddenly make a 180-degree turn
during the spoken word bridge. The mood switches from vaguely hopeful
to downright anxious. It is a similar transition to that of "Looking
Strangely enough, some of my favorite tracks on the album are Monteiro's
most simplistic and predictable songs. "Intermission (Lead Me
Out)" sounds like a danceable Mission: Impossible theme.
"Down To The Bits" is a steady, effortless melody that could
pose as the 13th track on Radiohead's The Bends, while
"In Front Of Me," the black sheep of the album (in a positive
sense), sounds like it could step right off of a Gorillaz album.
"Cosmic Life" begins with an echoing guitar solo that is
not only both delicate and subtle, but seamless and full-bodied. Monteiro's
harmonies (that could rival the Beach Boys or Simon and Garfunkel),
and the distant sitar that eventually finds its way into the song
make it one of the album's shortest, but most notable tracks.
Rather than communicate one type of feeling per song as many artists
do, Monteiro sews together a tapestry of moods within a single track.
He doesn't have an "angry song" or a "love song",
which are easy to recognize on most albums. Rather, the listener is
left with the idea that Monteiro has built a relationship, endured
a break-up, and possibly lived an entire lifetime within a single
song. While this is communicated musically, it is not necessarily
communicated lyrically. Monteiro's interest in beat poet Allen
Ginsberg is evident in his ambiguous, but fairly basic, lyrical
style. Fortunately, Monteiro does this intentionally. While musically,
he will take us on a vast journey within a 3-minute time span, his
lyrics are generally simple words and repetitious phrases, like Ginsberg.
However, unlike Ginsberg's work, Monteiro's lyrics convey more of
a soul-searching within the self, rather than through society at large.
On Cruisin' Alaska, Monteiro reveals his strongest point:
variety. The type of variety that is found on this album is one that
is only born of a talented artist with a hefty set of significant
musical (and literary) influences. However, the downside of such variety
is that it causes the work to lack cohesiveness as a whole. While
the uniqueness of each individual track can be appreciated and admired,
the album does not have the solidarity of a perfectly polished work.
It takes courage to put out such an experimental debut album, and
fortunately for Monteiro, I am sure it will make some waves. He is
undoubtedly an artist to be on the lookout for.
1. About Harmony
2. Looking For Guarantees
3. If You Only Have One Wish
4. I Sustain
5. People Get Lazy
6. The Meaning Of Soul
7. Intermission (Lead Me Out)
8. Keep Up The Good Vibes
9. One Of Us Is The Observer
10. Down To The Bits
11. Cosmic Life
12. In Front Of Me
13. Sierra Del Sol
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