Review: James Vincent McMorrow

Post Tropical
9 January 2014

James Vincent McMorrow’s shift from folk to atmospheric electronica could quite possibly have the reputable falsetto king, James Blake, shaking with fear behind his grand piano. 
Sure, McMorrow may have been granted the bragging rights for his Gold-certified and award-nominated debut album, Early In the Morning, back in 2010, but it’s his recently released second album, Post Tropical, that allows his distinctive vocal and instrumental talents to shine through.

Moments away from the bustling border of the Rio Grande and Old Mexico at Sonic Ranch, McMorrow impressively wrote, produced and played every instrument on the ten-track album, and it was there that the broody yet uplifting coming-of-age tale that is Post Tropical was born.

Although many of his tracks follow a similar formula of delicate though idiosyncratic falsetto that leads into a triumphant percussive crescendo, each track feels refreshingly new. His glorious lead single, Cavalier, marks his departure from folk and paves his way towards uncharted R&B territory.

McMorrow masterfully layers vocals, synths and soft percussion, while simultaneously crafting silence into an instrument of its own. The song instantly hooks the listener as it quietly builds from poignantly hushed keys and nostalgic falsetto to a crescendo of clashing cymbals and soaring brass.

Watch: James Vincent McMorrow – Cavalier

Red Dust is yet another track that commands both beauty and power, with minimal piano and soft claps. The end lingers with McMorrow’s unwavering falsetto looping the simple yet poetic lyrics: “Sometimes my hands don’t feel like my own / I need someone to love, I need someone to hold”. Tracks like Gold are a little brighter and uplifting, with drum patters and joyful harmonies, while tracks like melancholic Look Out veer towards a more somber tone.

At times, McMorrow’s velvety and often indecipherable falsettos are reminiscent of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon or local lad Matt Corby. But it’s his unique fusion of instrumental melodies that set him apart. From his incredible use of 50 mandolins in The Lakes to the 808 in Red Dust, McMorrow creates a highly textural yet minimalistic sound that hooks you from beginning till end.

Post Tropical is an alluring album that fits perfectly with a cosy Saturday sleep-in or a post-party glass of red. Anticipation often sees second albums fall short of their predecessors, but McMorrow has proven that he’s on a winning streak.

James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Post Tropical’ is out now.