It was a very brave move of James Vincent McMorrow to cover one of the most irritating pop songs in recent memory. But his version of Whip My Hair, a song sung originally by Will Smith’s nine-year-old daughter Willow Smith, was something special. McMorrow’s version is more of a delicate acoustic wave than a tweenie machine-pop nightmare – it is a great example of musical contrast.
McMorrow’s second album, Post Tropical, was inspired by the work he did before recording his debut album, Early In The Morning. Years ago, McMorrow remade a number of N.E.R.D instrumentals which he recorded “just for pure enjoyment”. These remakes were one of the main influences of the album’s sound. In Post Tropical, McMorrow gives the listener a taste of the kind of music he listens to himself.
The result sounds miles away from his acclaimed debut. This time around, McMorrow experiments with instruments beyond guitar, and often this works in his favour, whether it is the harp gliss on The Lakes or melting rhodes on lead single Cavalier. But the main instrument that stands out here is McMorrow’s voice. His ghostly falsettos are at times reminiscent of Bon Iver, and at others of James Blake. And, like the music, the album’s artwork is simple, idealistic and blissful, showing a solitary flamingo lodged comfortably on an exotic island.
It is an album full of progressive chord changes and strong, soulful repetitive choruses, which often only consist of one line. The simple lyrics work beautifully on tracks such as Red Dust. “Sometimes my hands they don’t feel like my own, I need someone to love, I need someone to hold.” McMorrow croons. In this case, simple is more beautiful than complicated ever could be.
Although maintaining a back-to-basics lyrical approach, on this album, McMorrow adopts a more nuanced approach to the music, relative to the more folky Early In The Morning. For example, the soft brushing of the drum teases a slow build-up of horn crescendos on Cavalier.
The horns return again on majestic sounding Gold. The triumphant plod of the title track is a perfect example of how McMorrow has evolved musically as an artist. But you also have tracks like Repeating, in which McMorrow retraces his acoustic foundations.
The stripped down Glacier, complete with gentle piano and soft handclaps, initially sounds like a doleful ballad, but it quickly builds up into something much more uplifting. The hymn-like Outside, Digging finishes this album off perfectly. McMorrow saves the best track until last, which gently builds up into a soulful climax.
The name Post Tropical shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking that it is an album which couldn’t be enjoyed in other than sunny climes – it is as much a winter album as a summer one, with its melancholy falsettos and stirring chords. But it will serve well as a perfect soundtrack for those frosty winter weekend mornings in which you won’t want to get out of bed and won’t have to. But it also wouldn’t sound out of place if it was played at sunrise after a summer party, just before worn out guests are about to hit the hay.
The musical evolution McMorrow has shown on this record will hopefully expand his audience across genres. With his relentless touring ethic, it is the least he deserves.