After a successful debut and cover of Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’, James Vincent McMorrow is determined to grow and evolve as an artist. In Post Tropical McMorrow has turned away from acoustic indie folk toward low-fi electronic soul. Nothing better demonstrates this than the slow-jamming album opener and first single ‘Cavalier’. Its minimalism, slow tempo, electronic soundscapes, rises and falls, falsetto, brass and hints of R n B set the scene for the rest of the album. Think Bon Iver and James Blake; with a twist.
This twist might be a result of the change of scenery. Post Tropical was recorded within a stones throw of the – United States-Mexican border in Texas on a pecan farm. A location McMorrow says affected the sound of the record and its departure from his first album, Early in the Morning, recorded in his native Ireland. There he says he became absorbed in new sonic territories.
Some features of Early in the Morning remain. McMorrow’s falsetto is stunning throughout Post Tropical examples include: ‘Cavalier’, ‘Look Out’, ‘Glacier’ and ‘Red Dust’. Beautiful backing vocals and harmonies are also used to great effect. ‘The Lakes’ is one of the best examples of the album’s gospel like harmonic vocal accompaniment, plus it has clean, crisp, country slide guitar and Jeff Buckley-esque falsetto on it. There is no trade off between breath control and the high notes reached on this album. The last thirty seconds of ‘Red Dust’ attest to this.
The soul balladry of ‘Look Out’ and ‘Glacier’ is simply heart breaking. Both are ‘musts’. Like the rest of the album both songs build slowly and reach melodic climax with the help of lush soundscapes. The former resonates like a Gregorian chant in a Roman cathedral. McMorrow’s gentleness and fragility treads a fine line between balladry and minimalism. Minimalism is taken to new heights on ‘All Points’, ‘Look Out’, ‘Repeating’ and ‘Outside, Digging’. But enough melody is present to allow it.
The album also has uplifting moments. ‘Gold’ is an up-tempo, brass filled, melodic masterpiece with crashing cymbals, and a much-needed relief after the emotionally intense ending of ‘Red Dust’. ‘Repeating’ shares similarities to ‘Gold’, but with marching band snare work instead of crashing cymbals. One element Post Tropical is in short supply of is more moments like these. Hopefully, McMorrow’s live performances are invigorating and lively, as well as emotionally intense.
The syncopation and shuffling rhythms of R n B and soul are hidden features of Post Tropical’s sound. Sample-like piano is evident on the openings to ‘Red Dust’ and ‘Post Tropical’, and ‘The Lakes’ opens with R n B beats before transforming into country Americana, without jolting the listener. ‘All Points’ also features R n B beats, but combines this with call and response vocals and gospel harmonies.
Post Tropical drains its listener with its dedication to its sound. Listening to this album is like doing tai chi or going to church for an hour (or karma sutra). The listener is washed clean in the intensity of it.