With much of the United States locked in one of the longest winters in recent memory, you could hardly blame a listener for wanting to escape with a record with a title like “Post Tropical”. Mercifully, James Vincent McMorrow’s album is as lovely as its idyllic cover suggests.
The record begins like a soft snowfall with mellow keys and McMorrow’s gentle falsetto. “I remember how cloth hung, flexing with the forest clung. Half waist and high raised arms, kicking at the slightest form. I remember my first love”, he coos on “Cavalier”. Soon come smooth handclaps, tinkling keys, and it’s crystal clear that this album is a marked departure for the Irish artist.
McMorrow’s 2011 debut, Early in the Morning, was decidedly folksy, packed with finger-picking, foot-stomps and pedal steel, recorded in a shed by the sea. Here he has ditched his stripped down arrangements for lush layering, sounding less Fleet Foxes and For Emma… and more Bon Iver and James Blake.
Sonically, the album is packed with clever production (see the vocal samples on “Red Dust”), triumphant and momentous swells (the gorgeous “Gold”), and moments that always fall on the interesting side of dramatic. Plus, the man clearly knows his way around a horn chart.
McMorrow cut Post Tropical in a Texas studio situated by the Rio Grande River; the album is suitably fluid. And like water, there is plenty of surface-level shimmer, but a shimmer is the first sign of disruption. Those ripples belie a world-weary melancholy that permeates the record. The album is also superficially beautiful, but it’s what lies beneath the surface that sets the album apart.
Album standout “Glacier” begins softly and sweetly like a ballad. “I want to go south of the river, glacier slow, in the heart of the winter”, he croons. But then a shift: “I want to go south of the river, facing alone, in the heart of the winter”. Enter handclaps and an uplifting orchestra and McMorrow has pirouetted away from pensive to powerfully propulsive. Cold be damned, the man will not be denied and listener is swept along for the ride.
Ultimately it ends as quietly as it began. The album concludes peacefully on an 80s-indebted organ and a harmonious harp. “There is so little light from the warmth of the sun,” he pleads on “Outside, Digging” before the record fades out to black. Turns out it’s damn near impossible going it alone.
While the record might not have the gripping immediacy of his debut, McMorrow’s subtle surety demonstrates not only polished poise but also a propensity for great things. Post Tropical’s clever arrangements, thoughtful songwriting, bounded lovingly by McMorrow’s gorgeous vocals, make the record a welcome bright spot in an otherwise bleak winter. Cozy up to this keeper.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy Post Tropical on Amazon.