Monday, 20 January 2014

James Vincent McMorrow - Post Tropical

‘Post Tropical’ is, essentially, the love child of Bon Iver and James Blake.  McMorrow is best known for his cover of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love; his debut album ‘Early In The Morning’ being predominantly folky acoustic tracks.  Now he’s adapted his sound, adding the Americana tinges of Bon Iver and the precision of Blake to his trademark falsetto vocals.  If spectral minimalism is your jam, then ‘Post Tropical’ should be top of your listening list.

The production of the album is best described as painterly.  Washes of acoustic guitars and piano are the prominent instrumentation, songs coloured with warm brass, tinkling autoharp, ghostly clarinet, woozy slide guitar, and touches of electronic effects, all punctuated by both live percussion and processed beats.  In the corner is McMorrow’s signature vocal, delicately floating and cracking with each melody, occasionally enriched with harmony.  The textures of each song have been impeccably crafted, the overall effect stunningly beautiful.

It is, perhaps, a little too precise in its construction.  On the one hand, ‘Post Tropical’ does have its moments that tug at the heartstrings, essentially forming a series of lamentations and torch songs.  Opening track Cavalier revels in downbeat misery, whilst some lyrics capture melancholy beautifully, such as Red Dust’s “I will not cave under you for my heart is an unending tomb” (a song that also includes a beautifully yearning high note in its final moments).  On the other hand, for the most part the album’s lyrics are too abstract and the melodies too fragile to be memorable – an obvious exception being All Points, the album’s most hooky track with its repeated “I was in the dark” refrain.  You just wish McMorrow would let loose a little and offer something less restrained and more emotionally raw, even if the minimalist production is incredibly exposing.  Only the title track dares to beef up the sound.

The comparisons to Blake and Bon Iver really can’t be helped, McMorrow’s sound having neither the electronic originality of the former, nor the aching melodies of the latter.  ‘Post Tropical’ remains a stunning album, but McMorrow’s restraint and lack of daring hold it back from greatness.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Cavalier
* Red Dust
* All Points

Listen: 'Post Tropical' is available now.