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REVIEW: Post Tropical by James Vincent McMorrow

Thursday, 13 February, 2014

Words by Scout Boxall

Recorded on the edge of the Texan desert, Post Tropical has a quiet wildness to it. Its simple acoustic hooks and harmonies are glazed in hoarfrost. Each key change is warm enough to thaw out a wind-beaten travelling salesman leaning over a hearth. Sometimes, the ever-restrained James Vincent McMorrow will allow the music to swell for a few seconds. It’s like the brave little last rays of the sun seep over the horizon, before sinking into a beautiful grey dusk.

McMorrow – a former airport trolley attendant – has the dry-lipped, breathless voice of a lover. You can barely decipher the lyrics, but that doesn’t really matter. Each track is brutally, beautifully simple – no more than two instruments accompany his voice at any one time. He lulls you to sleep. Then, his signature sky-scraping falsetto pierces the music like a needle through felt. You shudder up in awe. (In live shows, even the most seasoned audiences gasp at the power of his voice.)

Post Tropical is a palate cleanser, best listened to on the tram with closed eyes and cold hands. Even though it runs just under an hour, it’s difficult to swallow the entire album in one sitting. The opening to Post Tropical “Cavalier” combines unresolved piano chords with quiet clapping, reminiscent of fellow Briton James Blake. But the music’s heartbeat remains constant. McMorrow manages to punctuate the monotony with a few tricks. “The Lakes” pulls together fifty mandolins to mimic running water. “Gold” soars into a muted trombone and a swan-necked clarinet. “Repeating” has a crackling snare drum underneath what sounds like children singing on a merry-go-round, swinging in and out of focus. “Outside, Digging” has a distinct gospel feel. Nonetheless, after a while, the hollow drum, haunting vocals and trembling steel guitar makes you restless.

His debut album, Early In The Morning, placed him squarely in the folk-indie-rock camp. It was an innocuous collection of strumming guitars and lilting bridges; nothing special. But McMorrow’s sophomore effort has teeth. If his first album was saccharine, then his second is caramelised and salted. McMorrow sounds half as coy, twice as wistful. Imagine Mumford And Sons, stripped of the incessant ukulele and predictable foot-stamping chorus. Combine this with Justin Vernon’s hermitage and Fleet Foxes’ haunting confessional harmonies. Strain out any Alt-J-esque sweetness. Serve raw and cold. There you have the humble and honest music of James Vincent McMorrow. It’s not ground-breaking or revolutionary, but it’s damn good.

Must listen to: All Points, Gold, Repeating

Record company: Believe/Dew Process

Release date: January 3rd, 2014