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Album Review | James Vincent McMorrow excites with new album

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 08:01

R&B, a genre once dominated by artists like Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men, has received a makeover in the last few years. With artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel blazing onto the scene, the doors of the R&B world have burst open in spectacular fashion. Enter James Vincent McMorrow, a 30-year-old Irish singer and songwriter. McMorrow’s music is marked by melancholic and deep vocals that croon nostalgic lyrics over simple melodies created with acoustic guitar and synthesizers. His music is not traditional R&B; in fact, some will be more comfortable placing him in the indie-folk acoustic realm alongside acts like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. However, McMorrow’s sound has undoubtedly been born out of one of the newest trends in the musical world; synthesizing R&B beats and melodies into more traditionally alternative tunes.

  Although McMorrow represents a unique iteration of this trend, he owes much to the bands that have preceded him and gives more to those which will inevitably follow. Bands like Haim and Rhye, for instance, are perfect examples, and McMorrow belongs next to these contemporary musical giants due to his exemplary and uncanny ability to create a musical niche in the modern music scene — which seems to have devolved into more of a monotonous blob than a compelling sonic expanse.

McMorrow’s newest album, “Post Tropical,” is his sophomore effort, but it is his first released in the U.S. McMorrow’s popularity, although essentially non-existent stateside, has found strong footing throughout Europe and the U.K. McMorrow’s transition should be seamless considering that “Post Tropical” is an exceptional and easy to love album. With tracks ranging from somber to celebratory and complicated to simple, McMorrow has crafted an album that is, at once, familiar and inventive.

There are a few “Post Tropical” tracks that are particularly notable. The first single off of the album is “Cavalier.” The title suggests a song that is casual and careless — and it could not be more misleading. This song is noted for its smooth piano melody, McMorrow’s poetic lyrics and soothing singing. Indeed, this musician is a poet at heart and, following in the great tradition of Irish literature, he imparts, through his lyrics, cryptic wisdom and bittersweet sorrow into every track on the album. For instance, on the opening verse of “Cavalier” he sings, “Speak until the dust / settles in the same specific place / Light refused to go / Drink it from a cast and iron plate / instead of cold milk / was offered unripe / Instead of silence / considered craven.”

Another great track is “Red Dust.” This number, although displaying most clearly McMorrow’s similarities to Bon Iver, is a ghostly song that remains with the listener long after it has ended. The music video, which has already garnered some critical attention, showcases the trials and tribulations of a young girl in a trailer park. Unsettling and stark, this video culminates with the girl shaving her head. Not only does McMorrow showcase sophisticated musical sensibilities, he also demonstrates that he is not afraid to confront difficult topics in his lyrics and artistic expressions.

Ultimately, “Post Tropical” is an excellent album. McMorrow, still fairly green in the music industry, may need time to develop and hone his voice. Although his lyrics display wide variation, McMorrow’s melodies can come off as hackneyed and trite. However, this minor complaint is something that can only be remedied with age. As McMorrow continues to produce and impress, he will hopefully find comfort in experimentation and collaboration. Just like Justin Vernon before him, who teamed up with Kanye West on the rapper’s most recent album “Yeezus,” (2013) McMorrow can and should branch out and assert himself more aggressively within and outside of his genre. For now, all we can do is listen, a thoroughly enjoyable task thanks to McMorrow’s talent.

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