Release Date: Jan 14, 2014
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
It’s been almost four years since James Vincent McMorrow’s debut record, Early In The Morning, which despite never receiving the commercial reception it was most definitely due, was fawned over by critics and panels charmed by the delicacy of his nu-folk. Tracks like ‘Higher Love’ (a Steve Winwood cover) broke the Top 40, paving the way for the likes of Ben Howard, and his weapons of choice were classically folk – slide guitars, piano, acoustic string instruments in multiple shapes and sizes. It seemed like he’d take the Radio 1 route and polish up his music, don a dapper tweed suit/flatcap and go work in Clover’s in-house advert music workshop.
James Vincent McMorrow’s self-produced sophomore album Post Tropical sees the Irish musician leaving behind the traditional instrumentation of his debut for more atmospheric and rhythm-and-blues influenced song structures. Fans of his earlier work will recognize his Dublin-tinged falsetto and magnetic melodies, but what’s most evident about Post Tropical is McMorrow’s creativity and skill in the studio. Sonic treats pepper the entire record, from the off-kilter wind chime plinks on opener “Cavalier” to the synesthesia-inducing waterfall harps on “The Lakes” and “Gold.
A definite departure from his guitar-strumming debut, James Vincent McMorrow's sophomore album incorporates synths, mellow keyboards, buried drum taps and distant harp effects, making him sound more like Jhené Aiko, Blood Orange and British soul-pop artists Sampha and Jungle than any "singer/songwriter" we know. Often crooning just above a whisper - his falsetto is dreamy throughout - he's hard to think of as anything but a soul singer. The album comes alive on its second half - Look Out, Repeating and Post Tropical all have satisfying slow-building payoffs, while on Glacier you half-expect Rudimental-style drum 'n' bass to kick in and explode the song altogether.
Recorded in southern Texas, titled Post Tropical, and with a palm tree on the cover, you’d figure that this album would show you a little in the way of warmth. Indeed, overlooking the unlikely Calexico-led collaboration, when I first saw the album’s title and its pastel cover art, I immediately feared a motley collection of mariachi-inspired riffs, soured by bad brass lines and ugly flamenco guitar. Thankfully, the album turned out to be nothing of the sort.
James Vincent McMorrow is a true master of texture on his second LP, Post Tropical. Velvety falsetto vocals, plush keys, fuzzy percussion—basically a grab bag of sensual instrumentals—give the Irish singer/songwriter’s work a complexity that is pretty breathtaking. A Dublin native, McMorrow first emerged in 2010 with his debut LP, Early in the Morning.
You’d be forgiven for concluding that James Vincent McMorrow was a “folk” artist, based on the Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens-style acoustic pop on his debut album, Early In the Morning. But hearing the sultry sounds of his new follow-up to that 2011 album, Post-Tropical, it would appear that McMorrow has exorcised all of the strums and foot-stomping rhythms out of his system. His latest, instead, is rife with sumptuous arrangements steeped in gorgeous layers of piano and organ, with much subtler licks of guitar sliding in like skin on silk sheets.
Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow turns expectations upside down on Post Tropical, his follow-up to debut, Early in the Morning. Though that record reached number one and went platinum in the U.K. with its quirky, folksy meld of soft vocals and acoustic and electric guitars. McMorrow shifts gears entirely here.
Bon Iver comparisons were inevitable for the wintry folk of James Vincent McMorrow's 2011 debut: beard, falsetto and recording sessions in an isolated cottage saw to that. They're valid here too: like Justin Vernon, McMorrow has renounced backwaters minimalism to create a richly textured second album – his remarkable, soulful voice competes for space with electronic pulses and digital brass. But McMorrow's USP lies perhaps in the grand gesture; there's a multitracked theatricality to songs such as Gold and Looking Out, which costs him some of the shiver factor of more understated peers, but delivers moments of magnificence too.
It was a very brave move of James Vincent McMorrow to cover one of the most irritating pop songs in recent memory. But his version of Whip My Hair, a song sung originally by Will Smith’s nine-year-old daughter Willow Smith, was something special. McMorrow’s version is more of a delicate acoustic wave than a tweenie machine-pop nightmare – it is a great example of musical contrast.
There's a shot that crops up often in nature documentaries or early in the third act of movies that focus on a character's personal growth: An icicle slowly melts in tentative drips, or a cluster of pine needles covered in snow suddenly shakes off its crystalline burden. It's a shot that communicates things like “time has passed, slowly but surely” and “the character you're about to see has been through some deep contemplation!” But it works because there is something about the stark calm of late winter that seems to match up with those periodic spells of reflection, the slow, occasional seasons we spend gradually and deliberately healing or learning. They stretch on forever and then are suddenly complete.
James Vincent McMorrow doesn't bury the lede, so neither will I: The Irish singer-songwriter opens his sophomore album, Post Tropical, with a stone-cold knockout of a song, one of the finest singles in recent memory and the kind of thing that musicians spend entire careers trying to achieve. The sweltering, soul-drenched “Cavalier” begins as a whisper-quiet vocal melody over a soft bed of electric keys, gathers layer upon delicate layer of instrumental texture, and builds to a climactic symphony of horns, cymbals, and organ tones, McMorrow wailing in a desperate falsetto: “I remember my first love. ” It's hard to fault Post Tropical for not quite managing to scale those same heights again; there are moments when it comes awfully close, and it's remarkably polished for an album that reportedly came together over the course of just a three-week stay at a West Texas studio.
James Vincent McMorrow: the name alone suggests grizzled beards, fiddles, tweed blazers and the word rustic. But the Irish singer-songwriter is shying away from that kind of affiliation in 2014. Since the release of his platinum-selling debut Early in the Morning in 2010, the 30-year-old has been inspired by hip-hop, which on Post Tropical translates loosely as using the occasional drum machine (Red Dust) and applying lofty, crisp production (Outside Digging).
Even the name ‘Post Tropical’ hints that the follow-up to the gentle folk laced beauty of James Vincent McMorrow’s debut ‘Early In The Morning’ will have an altogether different feel. This does nothing to prepare for what’s to come, though, as startling opener ‘Cavalier’ beguiles with its fusion of hand claps, gentle piano and sways of brass that take the listener into almost modern R&B territory. Equally stunning if not more so is ‘Repeating’ whose dramatic stops and starts help to create that slow building momentum which threatens to spill into overdrive but holds willingly back.When there is so much craft and attention to detail it’s hard to pick out just a handful of tracks as each have their own merits.
Many musicians know that they’re pigeonholed into certain genres, but it’s often easier to embrace them than oppose them. “Beard rock” was a tag that stirred up James Vincent McMorrow, though, making him question the connotations and fashionability of his crimson facial hair. Even though his last album, Early in the Morning, was glazed in bluegrass machinery and gang vocal harmonies, the very essence of that hirsute faux-genre, the musician believed his songwriting exceeded those limitations.
Though it was probably inevitable that the monstrous success of Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago would spawn a generation of falsetto-voiced mellowniks, it has nonetheless been surprising to see just how many new artists sound like direct descendants of that 2007 release. Top of the heap is Ireland's James Vincent McMorrow, whose second album will likely find a wide audience among Vernon-ophiles with its finely calibrated languidness and carefully measured beauty. But it is this very precision that will be, to other ears, its undoing.
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues Plain and simple, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is Against Me!'s best album since 2002's Reinventing Axl Rose. It's also their most emotionally-cutting. On the production side, the album is unrelentingly catchy and propulsive, like decades of angst and suppression unleashing itself in half an hour. Lyrically, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a powerhouse showing for Laura Jane Grace.