To hear Jessica Cerro – better known as Montaigne – speak in her soft, articulate, down to earth voice, then to hear her sing, you wouldn’t believe for a second they’re the same person. Cerro, 21, offers up her debut album, Glorious Heights with heady, smoldering vocals and a fresh ‘coming of age’ sentiment.
The title track and opener ‘Glorious Heights’ begins with a 90s piano ballad – little bit of Meatloaf happening here – and a perfect union between the drum beat and the hand clap. The song is about ignoring your pain and pushing forward and upward, almost like you shouldn’t appear weak in front of others: “I feel the need to rescue myself / because I’m too afraid to ask someone else.”
Her voice is an absolute power house of determination and motivation, rallying all who hear her.
‘In The Dark’ is loaded with rebellious attitude, and begins with electronic vocal mixing, plus a smidge of trumpet and horn to carry the ongoing feel of determination. Montaigne acknowledges that her mistrust, and inability to love, is mostly her own doing: “I can’t sleep, I am the reason / for my defeat, for keeping feelings in.”
‘Till It Kills Me’ teaches us to keep fighting for our life and our beliefs, despite being “taught to hate ourselves because of our flaws.” It preaches the importance of building yourself up, because no one can do that except you.
There are gushy moments in Glorious Heights, with orchestral swells, cellos and chanting. Cerro’s voice is enough to soften even the most cynical heart, and the way her voice fluctuates is magic, and powerful enough to use as a standalone instrument.
Speaking of gushy, love is a funny thing. Sometimes, who we love is inexplicable. Our friends think we are insane, our parents despise our new love, yet the young victims of lovesickness are oblivious to objections from the outside world.
Be prepared: ‘Because I Love You’ is the cuter track on the album, and will not only get stuck in your head, but is the perfect example of the old adage ‘love is blind’. One party is putting in all the effort, losing themselves and their identity, while the other party makes no effort yet controls most aspects of the relationship.
Portraying the depth and fragility of human emotion, ‘Consolation Prize’ is stripped bare to a piano, some violin strings, and a full throttle voice: “I have no one to turn to”; “I am alive and here after all … that’s my consolation prize.”
It sees Cerro’s broken and bitter heart firmly planted on her sleeve, vulnerable and at a complete loss as to how she is going to pick up the pieces.
‘Come Back To Me’ kicks in with a strong poppy synth beat, and an air of assertiveness takes over. The lyrics are somewhat creepy and twisted – “Trample you like a flower / so I can have you forever” – yet oddly still endearing. The interlude becomes more frenzied, repeating “My only intent is love”, as though she is trying to convince herself more so than her target.
Montaigne sings until her voice is raw, yet displays such seemingly effortless control.
With 80s synth influences throughout, the songs switch between wanting to be loved, and asserting along the lines of: fuck off and get out of my life because you’re holding me back.
‘Clip My Wings’ begins with a catchy acoustic riff, and is the closest thing to an overlap between the aforementioned duality, simultaneously demanding respect and warning of an impending world of pain: “You’re asking me to be kind to you … that kind of game takes two”; “Don’t move I’ll hurt you / I’m devoid of virtue.”
With a ridiculously hooky chorus, it is the most energetic and determined track on the album.
Cerro’s unmistakable and infectious vocal riffs carry the Midas touch, turning all production and melody to gold.
The tunes all show a real chaos of thoughts, as we tread the unknown waters of life: the thrill and terror of not knowing the next step.
There’s a strong fear of abandonment in album highlight ‘Lonely’ with ominous violins that click into a fast tempo once the vocals start. The words “I cannot be by myself…I don’t even know myself” shows the self doubt as if Montaigne is asking someone to tell her what to do next.
You want to wrap her in a blanket, give her a cup of tea and let her vent to you, all the while reassuring her everything is going to work out fine.
Closing track ‘I’m Behind You’ brings it all together, and instils some clarity and calm. The fist pumping determination comes back with a vengeance: “I am behind you / I will come find you.”
But, wait a minute: don’t press stop just yet. There is a little hidden a cappella in the dying minutes of ‘I’m Behind You’. It is astoundingly powerful, giving shivers and goosebumps for days. This hidden gem makes you feel like you really know her. It is a heck of a talent to master, but she has nailed it.
Though this is the first album, the desire for more from the lovely charismatic Montaigne is already overwhelming. Steeped in triumph and purity of spirit, Glorious Heights is a celebration of this precious, messy thing called life. Witness the beauty and majesty of Cerro pouring her whole self into everything she does.
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