Music Review: James Vincent McMorrowJames Vincent McMorrow has endured heartbreak since the 2010 release of his first album. That album, “Early in the Morning,” wove McMorrow’s voice between drums and tambourines and presented a talented artist whose sound seemed similar to many others'. In his second album, “Post Tropical,” McMorrow becomes more specialized, and tells an honest and mesmerizing story of loss through his music.
McMorrow has come a long way since proclaiming that he has “been breaking hearts for far too long” in his first album. “Post Tropical,” is an album containing a ten-song reflection on loss and the fleeting nature of love. His tone has changed, he’s not nearly as buoyant, but the result is something remarkable. It’s the same delicate, breathy voice of McMorrow’s, but the poetry he sings is more complex and more solemn. Upon hearing the album for the first time, I was surprised by the depth of the first single, 'Cavalier.' This song’s style, punctuated by delicate synthesizer chords, shows a more mature McMorrow crooning about remembering his first love with intensity. 'Cavalier' is a departure from the more playful McMorrow I saw perform in Minneapolis during the summer of 2012.
In fact, the playfulness of his first album is absent on McMorrow's sophomore release. "Post Tropical" gives us songs like 'The Lakes,' a wistful gaze at unwanted endings. The most energetic songs are the last few on the album, like 'Post Tropical,' which knits lyrics drenched in loss (“How can anyone move on?”) with a full minute of almost optimistic claps and vocals. McMorrow is still hurt but recognizes the need to look to the future.
What a wonderful album to release during these frigid depths of winter. We’ve all lost our summer and are pining for its return. Instead, we’ll try to focus on the upcoming one, even though it may not seem as inevitable as it actually is. McMorrow, too, is stuck in his own winter of sorts, but it appears that the worst is behind him.
Perhaps his most poignant offerings are in 'Red Dust' and 'Outside, Digging.' In 'Red Dust,' McMorrow repeats the lyrics, “Sometimes my hands don’t feel like my own/ I need someone to love/ I need someone to hold.” His relationship with love has evolved. He is not complaining about being alone. Instead, he mourns the loss of love and that his body isn’t fulling its purpose. In the album's final song 'Outside, Digging,' he repeats the line, “There is still little life from the warmth of the sun.” This, the final song of “Post Tropical”, is a haunting summary of the album’s narrative, and is fittingly the most stripped-down song of the album. It makes skillful use of synth and percussion, but McMorrow’s voice is most pronounced. It cracks and strains through the end of the song, concluding the album with a haunting proclamation.
While “Post Tropical” is a clear departure from the more accessible style McMorrow presented in his first album—enough so to draw comparisons with Bon Iver’s evolution from his first album to his second—it seems a natural progression. Instead of distracting from McMorrow’s breathy voice, the gentle drumbeats and synth provide structure. With his voice, the instruments construct an almost ethereal feel. The album in itself is also a more cohesive body of music than McMorrow’s first, depicting McMorrow’s heart as one recovering from loss.