Those who listen to James Vincent McMorrow’s “Post Tropical” are apt to feel both emotional and confused.
The Irish singer-songwriter had the same disorienting effect with his excellent 2011 debut, “Early in the Morning,” and though his method produces diminishing returns with the follow-up, “Post Tropical” is nonetheless powerful.
The Dubliner has a distinct approach to his sonic landscapes – stark openings hinge on electronic loops and his high, often falsetto, vocal. Then layers are added to fill in the spaces so that what began as a ghostly song becomes a multi-headed apparition where mandolins and 808s alike swell with drama. Even the overdubbed backing vocals, innocuously angelic at their onset, steal focus from McMorrow’s plaintive lead wails.
His vocal delivery carries a sense of consistent intimacy - confessional or otherwise revelatory - yet he’s often difficult to understand due to a pretentious lack of enunciation in the verses that saddles the air with self-importance. However, when he wants to be clear, he is: Another McMorrow signature is the hammered-home refrain. On “Post Tropical,” these include the chilling hook, “I remember my first love” in the funereal context of “Cavalier,” and the ominous, “I wanna go south of the river, face it alone in the heart of the winter” on “Glacier.”
McMorrow taps into a more soulful approach here than he did on “Early in the Morning,” something akin to alternative R&B that lifts him out of the predictability of his own formula. For instance, on the liturgical-like “Red Dust,” he’s prodded by an irregular-heartbeat rhythm and a gurgling stream of electronica as he discloses, “Sometimes my hands, they don’t feel like my own/I need someone to love, I need someone to hold.”
Listeners may occasionally find themselves lost in the clouds while McMorrow has what seems to be an oblique break-down on “Post Tropical,” but his atmosphere is absorbing.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2014, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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