Sydney-based Montaigne is known for her eccentric vocalization style (which might remind you of Marina), and catchy melodies. Her sophomore album Complex is out today (Aug. 30), and plays to all of these strengths, while allowing for an honest vulnerability in the lyrics.
The opening track “Change” is an anthem to personal evolution, which is well captured through its sonics — theatrical voices floating in and out, frenzied drums, and surprising twists around every corner. “Your juvenile behavior makes me respect you less,” Montaigne (real name Jess Cerro) chants.
There are dark moments on the record, too. Vitally, Complex was written during a health battle that Montaigne struggled to understand at the time. “I got very ill in a way I couldn’t understand and no specialist could understand,” she says. “It’s now medically recognised as burnout, which is amazing, but at the time I didn’t have that diagnosis, which really messed me up.” This frustration comes across on songs like “Pleasure,” recorded during a session where the singer admits she was “languishing and dreary.”
Other songs like “For Your Love” (written from the point of view of a sex robot) and “Ready” are vibey cuts, with pulsating hooks and dramatic quirks. The bouncy synth-driven “Love Might Be Found (Volcano)” is an especially catchy, explosive burst of emotion.
Complex follows Montaigne’s 2016 debut album Glorious Heights, which peaked at No. 4 on the Australian Albums chart and won her an ARIA award for best breakthrough artist.
Below, the 23-year-old Aussie takes Billboard through a track-by-track explanation of each song on the album.
“Change” is about how much I dislike intransigence, and seek (in all parts of my life) to avoid stagnation. I want to strive towards challenging, growth-stimulating experiences so that I may become a better person for other people.
When you find out your ex-boyfriend has a literal Messiah complex. I like to imagine it as the origin story of a religious cult leader…
“For Your Love”
A song from the perspective of a sex robot. Well, not really, but that’s how I like to imagine it. It’s a song from the perspective of someone who takes the role of “pleasure fountain” in a relationship and sacrifices their own boundaries, wants, and needs to fulfil the fantasies and desires of the other.
“Losing My Mind”
Another “I’m debilitatingly ill and I’m having a terrible time” song. Done with Tom Rawle. First verse tells the story of how I wound up so ill. I have a drive to push through all difficulties, seeing everything as a challenge to beat, so when my body started sending signs that it had enough, I ignored them and pushed on, and ultimately completely burned out. The second verse references a dream I had of finding a beached trout fish which was wiggling, flopping, and gasping for air manically and awfully.
“Love Might Be Found (Volcano)”
A case of love and bad timing. My version of Groovejet by Spiller. When you’re getting involved with someone, and it seems like a really good thing, but it’s too early to tell if it could be very serious, and you have to leave their country. So you hope that some volcano or serious weather event will keep the airport from operating so you can spend a bit more time with them, exploring this good things. Melodrama.
“The Dying Song”
My version of [Douglas Adams’ novel] So Long and Thanks For All The Fish. A video game protagonist’s last song before they die and let the whole kingdom/world/universe fall to armageddon. Kind of an homage to fantasy RPGs and D&D.
This is a song about deep loneliness and isolation while traveling/touring. Inspired by my weekend spent in Adelaide, writing with the brilliant and lovely Mario Späte for a couple of days after having done WOMAD [festival]. It was very difficult for me.
Addressing my people-pleasing nature. It’s both about audiences and relationships.
Now, this is about a very toxic relationship. Examining various memories of manipulation and abuse: verbal abuse, gaslighting, contriving fake memories to control your partner, and how you can still feel like you love this person despite the noxiousness of the relationship.
I had adrenal fatigue and whilst I had oodles of free time, I was also deeply debilitated and was severely limited in what I could do or think and felt horrible. I got into a very dark headspace. My ability to think and speak crumbled (by my standards) and every single thing felt like an effort. I felt terrible about my body, I’d cry when I received emails about anything, everything seemed terrible, I had no motivation, energy, direction. I became very socially anxious, didn’t like to go out much, couldn’t do exercise, would get sick of people I usually enjoyed hanging out with much quicker. And I had no diagnosis either! Even after spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on doctor/naturopath/endocrinologist’s appointments. It was terrifying and I couldn’t even muster the passion to feel terrified. So I stream-of-consciousness-ed this in a session in which I was struggling to stay eyes open and upright.
“Is This All I Am Good For?”
Mostly about body image/identity issues. Just a pretty pile of neuroses. A dissection of all the ways in which I’ve disliked myself.
“I Am A Clown”
My metric for the right romantic relationship is how freely and comfortably I can express my goofy sense of humor around the person (as well as a bunch of other things, but freedom to be goofy is the most effective litmus test). I’ve historically been drawn to people who have failed this test. This song is a reminder of what I need and deserve, and who I am at heart.
Ready was initially written in a co-write session after discussing the feeling of dissatisfaction that persists even after accomplishing some career milestone. Feeling like you have the mental (and physical) fitness to keep working, grinding, and making the most of your talents, yet the opportunities to use them may not present themselves to you. Nonetheless, you’re ready! Let’s get to work. Also, please pay me the sum commensurate to my output, which is certainly equal to or greater than that of many of my male counterparts. Gracias.
Complex is out now via Wonderlick/Sony Music Australia and REDMUSIC in the U.S.