Review Summary: An island fit for both pink feathers and white fur.
There’s a message engrained in the artwork of Post Tropical
, the sophomore release from Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow
, that easily melts away as the tracklist winds down. It’s at first an image of contrast: a flamingo on a tropical beach in the foreground while a polar bear stares out to sea from an iceberg floating on the right. With this paradox, the question arises about whether Post Tropical
is a focus on frigid feelings or a variation on warmer moods. But the ultimate image McMorrow paints leans neither way, and instead solicits the feeling of lying in winter’s first snow in a position directly exposed to the rays of the sun. It is ultimately as blissful an experience as this analogy makes it out to be.
It’s first worth noting that the beauty on Post Tropical
is in a rather different style from McMorrow’s debut, Early in the Morning
. Whereas the latter release focused primarily on a wholesome folk approach, Post Tropical
sees McMorrow pushing himself into territory more comparable to the work of someone like James Blake
. His instrumental choices show a prominent incorporation of electronics, brass, strings and synthetic beats, all with a focus on more detailed, layered compositions. Vocally, McMorrow’s singing and control of it are stupendous throughout the album. While McMorrow most closely resembles Blake’s soulful delivery, there are hints of Sampha
) and Tom Krell (How to Dress Well
) in his lower and higher registries.
All of this together produces tracks that feel like maximalist minimalism: the overall tone is one of vastness and peace, but every component of this feeling has been meticulously constructed by McMorrow. It’s to the point that picking specific tracks to discuss from the album’s ten offerings is a challenge. Both of the pre-release singles, “Cavalier” and “Red Dust,” do an excellent job of setting the standard high early on in the album and are some of the most obvious references to Blake. The mid-album piano ballad “Look Out” is another highlight, with very little chance at an avoidance of tears. Then there’s the title track, which might be the best example of how masterfully McMorrow continually evolves and refreshes Post Tropical
’s sound with apparent ease. In the end, this decet works so much better as a whole experience and should be heard as such.
While artists may often oversell their music’s contextual message, there’s a clear truth in McMorrow’s description of Post Tropical
having remnants from the Southern Texas pecan farm at which it was recorded. McMorrow posits how a close listen can reveal the literal sounds of “the hot bedded air…the birds on the trees…[and] the train going by.” These feelings arrive on the album as fond memories of experiences past while lying back in the snowy scene described above. This may be the strongest appeal of the album: its insinuation of positive recollection. It’s as if the listener isn’t directly given the feelings of warmth, but instead given the ability to conjure these sensations themselves. The result is nothing short of sublime.