Release Date: Jun 16, 2017
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The last time we heard Kevin Morby, he sounded immortal. On Singing Saw, the ex-Woods bass player and co-director of The Babies sang sweeping epics about fire and rain and facing the devil in his dreams. He'd been to the mountain, sung all the songs and watched as the flowers around him wilted, seeming more of a mythological figure wandered in from the back pages of rock history than a regular guy strumming a guitar.
With his latest instalment, City Music, Morby has compiled another outstanding selection of songs; a breadth of material ranging from slow, bluesy ballads to tasty surfer rock and mellow, folk-infused numbers. The 29-year-old is no stranger to the music industry, in fact, he's already somewhat of a veteran having accompanied numerous acts (Woods, The Babies), and jamming within New York's music scene from a young age. Travelling through America from the mid-2000s onwards, he's seen a lot of things and has used his time efficiently to develop and master his craft.
Big city music has always been a fantasy: romanticizing filth, creating pockets of utopia in cruel systems, rich kids slumming it in an attempt to glom onto gutter poet romance. Making music that reckons with storied cities demands hard-bitten cynicism, but also a quasi-religious belief in their transformative potential. Earlier in his solo career, Kevin Morby made more direct references to the artists who consecrated places like New York and Nashville in the popular imagination.
Intended as a sort of companion piece to 2016's Singing Saw, City Music sees singer/songwriter Kevin Morby playing yin to the former's yang, trading comely pastoral tones for cool urban clamor. Much like Bob Dylan (an acknowledged and apparent influence), Morby is a native of the Midwest who began his career in New York, first as a member of bands like the Babies and Woods, then recast as an indie poet bard with a warm affinity for the city. Before decamping to Los Angeles, he released 2013's Harlem River, a folky Greenwich Village-indebted postcard to the city of his musical awakening.
Kevin Morby is a poet. On last album ‘Singing Saw’, the Texas native made beautiful laments out of subjects as broad as break-ups (‘Destroyer’) and police brutality (‘I Have Been To The Mountain’). It was a record that evoked the spirit of a restless wanderer, observing every corner of life as he traversed the varied plains of America.
Kevin Morby released Singing Saw, his celebrated, orchestral, intricate third album just last year, and already, City Music has arrived as its sparse, Velvet Underground-indebted counterpart. Whereas Singing Saw was about life in Los Angeles (Morby, originally from Kansas, lives in L. A.
Kevin Morby's solo career can quite succinctly be defined by the concept of place. His debut album 'Harlem River' was an ode to New York City, and 2016's brooding 'Singing Saw' was quite obviously influenced from his time writing and recording it in the gloomy shadow of Mount Washington, New Hampshire. Fourth LP 'City Music' then, adheres to this pattern.
Singing Saw, the debut solo album from Los Angeles singer-songwriter (and former Woods bassist) Kevin Morby, was one of the great "growers" of 2016. Dusky and unassuming, it revealed its considerable charms slowly but surely, reflecting the patient ways of the man who made it. Morby's follow up, City Music, mines a similar aesthetic, though its songs in general seem to endear themselves more quickly.
Kevin Morby City Music (Dead Oceans) Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 Kevin Morby's second album in two years and follow-up to the outstanding indie folk set Singing Saw, is ostensibly not an album tied to any one city in particular. Morby issued a statement before the album's release, describing it as a "love letter dedicated to those cities I cannot get rid of," and the eclectic, style-shifting makeup of the album, paired with a more urgent pace than its predecessor, feels like the sleepless hum of a bustling, culturally diverse metropolitan hub. New York's ghosts haunt seemingly every other track on City Music, the musical legends of the city's past given clever tribute throughout.
“Oh I’m drunk and on a star,” Kevin Morby sang on 2016’s Singing Saw, lost in his own world. It must have been satisfying - drifting off for the night, safe in the knowledge that he’d made one of the singer-songwriter records of the year, one that made good on the promise of its taster tracks: the roasing I Have Been to the Mountain and Destroyer, a beautiful, saxophone-assisted number which showed up the band of the same name by being a superior version of what they were going for on their Poison Season LP. It must have been satisfying, but lonely too: these were backwoods tales of a solitary troubadour, elevated by strings, brass, piano, and Alecia Chakour, Hannah Cohen and Lauren Baithrop in the roles of Leonard Cohen‘s cooing “angels”.
Kevin Morby has written about his love for cities before. His solo debut, Harlem River, was about New York. For City Music, his fourth solo album in as many years, he's revisiting familiar subject matter, but as a very different artist. When Morby first embarked on his solo career -- after four albums with Woods and another two with the Babies -- the psych influence from his previous bands could be felt his textural use of electronic organs.
On his fourth album, City Music, Kevin Morby continues to pencil in the definition of his artistic persona. The Kansas City transplant already offered his musical homage to New York City with 2013's Harlem River. Now, City Music is a levitating glimpse into the city experience in general, with an expansion of urban ambience that feels physical and interactive through these vintage tunes enhanced with modern amplification.
There's a special kind of loneliness that comes along with big cities. Unlike rural, country towns, you're surrounded by the bustle of millions of others wrapped up in their busy lives. It's easy to fall into your own routine and ignore the outside world. Being alone in life surrounded by a crowd of others huddled together creates a dissonance unlike anywhere else.
Described as a collection "devoted to the metropolitan experience", Kevin Morby's fourth album retains that feeling of scattershot imagery, a slight claustrophobia, and even the mild schizophrenia city living can induce. Musically, it feels sombre, but slightly jumbled. There are tracks that are shorter in full than just the intro of others, spoken word passages and long, chorusless drones.
Kevin Morby has mastered the 'Lay Lady Lay' croon of Dylan, blending Lou Reed's defiant atonality and self-regarding street smarts and a faintly annoying commitment to finding the tritest rhyming couplets available. City Music aims to be effortless - a "listless wanderlust" is how his press notes describe it - and for once the artist's own assessment is absolutely on the money. The record is indeed an aimless slog.
With Singing Saw, Kevin Morby put out one of the best indie-rock albums of last year. City Music feels like a continuation of that work. Morby works with a similar mindset, but he's expanded the template, and he's adjusted his sound to take on his new thematic setting. The previous album was rural (probably mountainous) and haunted; this one walks a late-night urban setting.