Review of Post Tropical Album by James Vincent McMorrow

It's been four years since the release of James Vincent McMorrow's well-received and relatively successful debut album 'Early In The Morning'. Those expecting more of the same may be a little disappointed; James has "no interest in repeating himself". However, those who are willing to pursue the new, accept a shift in emphasis and embrace a change can look forward to some more well-versed, beautifully sung and intimately expressed tracks.

James Vincent McMorrow Post Tropical Album

'The Folk' lilt of his previous album is barely present. The guitar accompaniment has been largely dropped in favour of a keyboard. McMorrow's heart has more of an electro leaning with an R&B bend and here he is able to aptly realise his objective and convey more tellingly where his musical allegiances lie. 

His first album was by no means deceptive; all the components that made it an accomplished debut are present here. McMorrow's premier instrument, his voice, has been harnessed and honed to compliment his ever more progressive compositions. His lightness of touch, ethereal arrangements and disillusioned and isolated characterisation are all in evidence. The ten-track set tugs on your heart strings through emotive passages and stirring imagery.

Last year's single 'Cavalier' serves as a suitable opener for the album, almost entirely capturing its spirit and attitude with immediate effect. A James Blake like minimalism draws you in, then through delicate strings, handclaps, high keys and even higher layered vocals, McMorrow brings in intermittent beats as he imparts his impassioned memories of his first love.

Drum machines help score the arrangements throughout, evident on the brilliantly building drama of 'The Lakes' and then on the almost 'Vienna' like beat of 'Red Dust'. James Vincent's tragic tale of loss and longing ends with a painful anguished plea to be loved and held which is no surprise after such an emotional song: "I will not cave under you, for my heart is an unending tomb. I will not trouble your rest, for my heart is infinity blessed."

As well as his use of keyboards and the obvious slant towards a more electro scented score, McMorrow has also sprinkled the album with some deftly used horns. On the magisterial 'Gold', they are both uplifting and triumphant with a real sense of celebration. On the title track 'Post Tropical', they are soft and soulful to compliment the delicate keys that give way to the sublime vocal delivery (the song of two parts is also noteworthy for its later break into a reborn optimism).

Only towards the end do we hear a nod backwards. The revolving beat, warm brass and soft piano flourishes of 'Glacier' all combine and pair effectively in an arrangement that probably comes closest to his previous incarnation on 'Early In The Morning'. His vocal is slightly rougher and less affected but just as tender and just as emotive. Finally, and similarly, the stripped back delicacy of 'Outside Digging' draws the album to a close. His voice at times seems so fragile and yet it is able to impart so much in its tone and texture.

The folky twang may have all but disappeared and the soulful tones largely lost, but what has replaced them is a version of his vocal which McMorrow is clearly happy in and a set of songs that are far more contemporary and challenging. If anything, the tone in his vocal is higher and the falsetto stretched still further, making the agony and angst all the more effective. This is definitely a step forward as well as a step change for James Vincent McMorrow, which begs the question, what next?


Andrew Lockwood

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