James Vincent McMorrow’s new album breathtaking, expands horizons


Urmilla Kuttikad

Every now and then an artist will come around who, upon first impact with your ears, changes your life immediately and unapologetically.

James Vincent McMorrow is one of those.

His first album, “Early in the Morning,” came out in 2010 in Ireland (where he’s from) and 2011 in the U.S. That fall, when I first heard “If I Had a Boat,” a piercing ballad off “Early in the Morning,” I was struck breathless.

McMorrow tends to have that effect. His trademark is his instantly-distinguishable voice: a searing and unsettlingly gorgeous falsetto. When paired with his ability to inject every song he writes with heaping raw emotion and a quivering beauty, McMorrow’s music could move mountains.

Quite simply put, McMorrow is my cup of tea.

I’ve never let up on being obsessed with McMorrow. Normally, after three years, I would have grown tired of listening to an artist, but songs like “If I Had A Boat” and “We Don’t Eat” and “Higher Love” (a stunning Steve Winwood cover) are timeless and endlessly alluring. My fingers have been stuck in crossed position since 2011, hoping for a new album to marvel at.

But after Bon Iver (first and foremost among artists who have changed my life) announced in early September that he was taking a break from making music, I got a little jaded. Bon Iver, the artist whose page I checked every few days to see if he was going to go on tour again, was going to break my heart? Fine. OK. I sat around waiting for all my favorite artists to drop like flies — what day would Fleet Foxes announce their unfortunate break-up? James Vincent McMorrow? Edward Sharpe? It was only a matter of time.

But then, in late September, McMorrow announced that he would be dropping a new album, “Post Tropical,” in January. I couldn’t quantify my ecstasy if I tried; it only seemed fitting that McMorrow would be the one to restore my hope.

He released the first single from “Post Tropical,” “Cavalier,” in October. Listening to it for the first time was strikingly similar to listening to “If I Had a Boat” three years ago; “Cavalier” instantly struck me breathless — but surprisingly, for different reasons.

If “If I Had a Boat” were reflective of “Early in the Morning” in its folksiness and was reminiscent of Bon Iver, “Cavalier” is reflective of “Post Tropical” in its decided R&B influences and is more reminiscent of James Blake. To be honest, R&B is not what I was expecting after the folksy “Early in the Morning.” However, I’m beginning to think that perhaps it’s better than what I was expecting.

“Post Tropical” is just as beautiful as “Early in the Morning.” McMorrow’s voice is distinctive enough to tie his music together. These two things are enough of a tether to give McMorrow room to explore and grow instead of being confined to a genre or style. And McMorrow’s ability to expand his horizons so vastly — and to do it so magnificently — is a true testament to his gift as a musician.

Often, when a musician takes his or her music in a different direction, you get a lot of long-time fans grumbling about how much the musician has changed and how they only like the musician’s old stuff and are “very disappointed.”

With McMorrow’s new album however, every soulful chord and pulsing beat and hand-clap undercurrent is entirely novel and yet entirely welcome. He maintains his folksy songwriting and traces of the folk even linger on tracks like “The Lakes,” but McMorrow strips this album down to bare-bones, haunting simplicity — a simplicity that burgeons when layered with McMorrow’s beautiful take on R&B.

The album is by no means perfect. It peaks early — “Cavalier,” the opening track, is still my favorite — and by the end, the album can drag a bit. But “Post Tropical”’s imperfections are minute in the face of its seemingly endless perfections — the synth-hook addiction of “All Points” or the torched balladry of “Look Out” or the bristling emotion of “Glacier” — and I’d better stop before I list “Post Tropical”’s entire track-list.

McMorrow has said of this album that he wanted to make the kind of music he’d listen to, that “Post Tropical” is the album he’s been dreaming of making since he started out. And it must be reassuring to know that he’s made the kind of music his ever-increasing fans crave to listen to, that “Post Tropical” is the album we’ve been dreaming of, too.

By Urmila Kutikkad