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The Weatherman
Cruisin' Alaska
Monocromatica Records

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 heroin.

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 For Guarantees."

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.

-Allegra Willis

Track Listing:
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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