Review Summary: Kevin Morby is as Kevin Morby does
Kevin Morby may never top Singing Saw
. From a logical standpoint, I’m okay with that – the LP was a full-bodied folk gem that rolled all of Morby’s strengths as a songwriter into a tidy nine song package, and it was one of 2016’s best records. As someone who was hoping that he would evolve into the face of indie-folk, I’m a bit disappointed however. Morby has seemingly opted for quantity over quality, dropping three albums in the last four years (City Music
, Oh My God
) – and none of them come close to eclipsing Singing Saw
’s mid-tier moments, let alone brilliant peaks like ‘I Have Been to the Mountain’, ‘Dorothy’, or ‘Destroyer’. Morby’s prolific output is admirable, but I would have rather seen him spend these past four years curating an album of only his best cuts. Instead, Sundowner
continues in the lineage of its two predecessors: it’s an above average yet ultimately forgettable folk album with some direct hits lost in a sea of misses.
The moment on Sundowner
that almost made me think Morby turned a corner was ‘Brother, Sister’. It’s the second song on the record, and it’s got quite the unnerving storyline: a man, deceased and living in his sister’s mind, urges her – through explicit direction – to kill a bunch of people as vengeance for his own death. With a creepily picked acoustic guitar line and thumping drums that mimic a heart pounding, it’s the opposite of City Music
and Oh My God
– it’s creative, catchy, and lyrically disconcerting. It’s the kind of song that, had Morby chosen to extrapolate its eerie themes and craft a concept album, would have seemed like a logical progression from Singing Saw
’s mystical campfire folk. While death does appear to be a motif here – particularly on ‘Jamie’ and ‘Campfire’ – the rest of the album meanders rather aimlessly through acoustic, Dylan-wannabe balladry that lacks the storytelling prowess to bolster what is otherwise a lackluster batch of melodies. While many of the songs are merely forgettable, others falter enough to be downright annoying – such as ‘Wander’, which largely features Morby repeating the lines, “I wonder, as I wander / Why was I born in the wild wonder?” as if the wordplay was clever enough to emphasize.
Most of Sundowner
isn’t that dreadful, though. ‘A Night at the Little Los Angeles’ is an accurate microcosm of the record: charmingly lo-fi, a bit overlong for what it is, and at times blush-inducing (“There's lovers in the bedroom next door, you can hear them through the paper walls / I'm 'bout to cum soon, baby, no wait for me, okay, now”). It seems like whenever Kevin Morby is just about to hit his stride, there’s a misstep that undoes his progress. In the aforementioned song, it’s that passage – which he curiously uses to bookend the seven minute long track – and on ‘Campfire’, it’s that Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) has her album-altering talents wasted on a few seconds of distant wailing, which Morby drowns into oblivion behind the sound of a crackling fire. It’s the way that Morby dangles the carrot that is most frustrating as a listener; he almost always showcases incredible potential, but rarely gives the ideas more than a half-hearted go. In the past we’ve witnessed the heights to which his music can aspire; unfortunately, Sundowner
doesn’t come close. It’s still a well-produced record that plods along with a rustic charm and the occasional hook, but anyone who has followed Morby throughout his career knows he could be an icon in the modern indie-folk scene. Since 2017, however, it’s been a collage of pretty, forgettable albums. As it stands: Kevin Morby is as Kevin Morby does.