Album Reviews

James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

on January 15, 2014, 12:01am
Post Tropical Album - James Vincent McMorrow C+
Release Date
January 14, 2014
Dine Alone
digital, vinyl, cd
Buy it on amazon

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.

And he does have a point. Leaders of the movement,  Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, don’t really veer away from the beaten path: commencing with minimal guitar chords and vocal hums, gradually adding on more folky accessories, typically a banjo, bass, and/or mandolin, and finally mounting an intense explosion (see: Babel). While there are many bands that have learned to excel in or surpass such repetition, McMorrow packed his bags early and wanted no association. In that sense, Post Tropical, his sophomore album, isn’t just an escape, but the process of discovering confidence in unknown territory. His old-fashioned elements were just excess baggage; the mystery and excitement of his songwriting is propelled instead by a sexy, R&B dreaminess, coated in Rhodes pianos and atmospheric samples.

His first steps hint at a darker consciousness and more vivid images. “I remember, I remember my first love,” McMorrow calls on “Cavalier”, the album’s first single, but the falsetto-ed crooner’s approach is quite deceiving. By ear, this longing is contained and subtle, but there’s painful mourning poking through. This is earthquakes away from Early in the Morning‘s passionately-assembled, nature-leaning admiration. McMorrow’s return angrily shreds this portrait and explores a new beauty.

This reinvention comes largely as a surprise and exceeds expectations. Post Tropical takes similar turns as those undertaken by Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens, who were begged to stay in their beloved styles, but ignored those pleas to achieve even grander feats. He actively attempts to forget the stereotypical Folksinger identity in “Red Dust”, revealing “that once was my vision of birth, now is my vessel and curse,” and “I will not trouble your rest, for my heart is infinitely blessed.” It’s obvious that his roots are embedded in folk, lyrically, but the medium doesn’t fit anymore. This influences McMorrow’s experimentation, meshing his past and an electronic-based future into a test tube.

While walking out on his own has placed McMorrow at a more authoritative and confident position, he still doesn’t sound ready to settle, crooning, “sometimes my hands, they don’t feel like my own/ I need someone to love/ I need someone to hold.” Many recent alt R&B artists have expressed this same lonely sorrow, but McMorrow beautifies it with glowing Rhodes foundations and sample experimentation. The album’s accompanying release described a desire to “give this record the feel and movement of hip-hop records [he's] always loved,” a goal nearly reached. The sustained tones of “Cavalier” ring in easy comparisons to James Blake, matching the deep dreaminess and attack of “Unluck” or “Retrograde”, but differentiating itself with his expansive falsetto. The hook on “All Points” matches the catchiness of How to Dress Well’s “& It Was You” or Autre Ne Veut’s “Counting”, warranting an endless replay loop.

The minimalism of this newfound genre gives McMorrow’s voice a broader palette and much more depth. He’s surely had it all along, but, at times, his folk direction was too straightforward, his vocals caught in the over-full envelope of instrumentation. “Outside, Digging” displays this natural expertise in one of the record’s most outstanding moments. Instead of focusing on calm guitar tracks and keyboard tones, the track builds with swooning vocal hues, spanning from humming undertones to suspenseful harmonies, the combined intensity far beyond the instrumentation that would have overwhelmed him in the past. But, as he reincorporates some steady guitar melody and bass drum thumps to reach the climax, it’s obvious that the natural elements are still warranted.

Instead of taking the razor and nixing “beard rock” characteristics completely, his folk influences glowingly tie together with his hazy electronic confessional. Violin plucking, drum reverberation, and sweet acoustic fingerpicking aren’t typically fitted into this type of album, but McMorrow makes it seem easy, even organic. His guitar builds suspenseful crescendos as skillfully as his vocals, especially in the album’s title track. In addition to its dressing of twinkling bells, he introduces claps and a sweet guitar figure. It feels completely unrelated, at first, but brings McMorrow’s past and present into a seamless union.

Similar to the way that Early in the Morning became a positive addition to the full “beard rock” canon, Post Tropical is an intriguing and rewarding contribution to the alt R&B movement. He sounds at home more than ever before and utilizes his wide array of talents magnificently. While the typical folk musician would be completely lost with such a new direction, McMorrow makes the twists and turns gracefully.

Essential Tracks: “All Points”, “Outside, Digging”, and “Cavalier”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

October 16, 2014 at 8:01 am

A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I think that you need to write more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo subject but typically people don’t talk about these issues. To the next! Best wishes!!

October 14, 2014 at 2:50 am

Thanks on your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will often come back down the road. I want to encourage you to continue your great work, have a nice morning!

October 14, 2014 at 2:49 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about alt r&b. Regards

June 12, 2014 at 8:17 am

If some one wants expert view on the topic of running a blog afterward i recommend him/her to pay a visit this website, Keep up the good job.

June 12, 2014 at 7:05 am

I am in fact happy to glance at this web site posts which contains lots of valuable facts, thanks for providing these information.

June 11, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored at work so I decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I love the knowledge you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, awesome blog!

June 11, 2014 at 6:35 am

Hi there superb blog! Does running a blog similar to this take a lot of work? I have very little knowledge of computer programming however I had been hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyway, should you have any suggestions or tips for new blog owners please share. I understand this is off topic however I simply wanted to ask. Many thanks!

June 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Fastidious replies in return of this issue with solid arguments and telling all regarding that.

May 31, 2014 at 12:29 pm

I simply couldn’t depart your web site before suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard info an individual supply for your visitors? Is gonna be back continuously to inspect new posts

May 23, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Very helpful info specially the last section :) I care for such information much. I used to be looking for this certain information for a very lengthy time. Thanks and best of luck.

May 23, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Hi there mates, good post and pleasant arguments commented at this place, I am truly enjoying by these.

May 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Helpful information. Fortunate me I discovered your site unintentionally, and I am surprised why this accident didn’t came about earlier! I bookmarked it.

Christian R
April 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm

B- would have been more like it. :) Check out Ray LaMontagne’s song Supernova if you haven’t already..


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,811 other followers