Review: James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

posttropical

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This second full length album from the Irish singer-songwriter, (follow up to award winning Early In The Morning – 2011) is a patchwork puzzle of emotional fragments. Constructed from sound files, loops and lyric books that the singer filled during an 8 month tour in support of his first release, the fragile heart that beats throughout Post Tropical is what blends the elements together.

Sparse arrangements sit happily with rich ones, echoing the vocal-led textures of Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes. However, in a slight departure from his largely acoustic debut, that saw him fall smartly into the “folk guy with a guitar” category, James has stated that this record is more representative of the music he loves, filled with electronic tones and occasional beats, poetic and open ended lyrics…but still with his heartbreakingly high falsetto, soaring effortlessly.

Listening to this album is like entering a house of mirrors. You get tricked into thinking something, when actually, it’s completely the opposite. It’s sparse, but lavish, It’s gentle, but cautiously aggressive. The Polar Bear that sits upon an iceberg in the background of the album cover, is lurking in the shadow of a warm, hazy, Caribbean sunset. It’s all about opposites. Describing the music simply as ‘electronic’ would be technically correct, but when you dig deeper, and let the tinkling mandolins and carefully constructed ambient beats wash over you, it has darker undertones – a brooding sense of danger, and sad inevitability.

Videos for two tracks Cavalier and Red Dust can be found online – two of three set to be released in a collaboration with writer/director Aoife Mcardle – they illustrate the sense of uncertain tension that the songs create, and are well worth checking out. The album fares best though, when treated as a whole. Out of context and out of their Post Tropical home, the songs can lose impact. You need time to grow accustomed to its strange, glass-lake beauty, to truly appreciate it.

Too much of a good thing is always a risk with music that although exploratory, doesn’t stray too far – but here, McMorrow finds the balance, and gets it just right. Listen to it once with your eyes closed, then with the lyrics in front of you. The words can get swallowed up by his angelic honey and gravel voice, and they deserve appreciation.

Touring well into 2014, with sold out shows across Europe, it will be interesting to see how successfully the record is transferred to a live platform, and whether its hauntingly sweet mystique can be preserved…just watch out for the Polar Bear.

Rachel Donnelly