James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

I can never tell what James Vincent McMorrow is singing. All I hear is the voice of a man who is too old to be a choir boy yet sings equally as angelically.

JVM probably wouldn’t be too impressed with that description and I’m sure he is as angelic as you and me; but you understand what I mean? I love men’s voices. I love when they are deep and gravelly. It fills me with a sense of security. It’s rare, though, to hear a man’s voice reach the height of the notes that this particular man’s does. Yet, rather than coming across as innocent and effeminate, this evokes a kind of reassurance.

There is a consistency to this album. The majority of songs begin slowly and gradually pick up pace, becoming livelier as the score progresses. Strings (harp and/or guitar) or piano generally introduce the tracks. These become bolstered in the chorus by percussion and a beautiful, beautiful brass section. JVM’s syrupy smooth voice layers itself over these and his tones and harmonies drip among the instrumental chords, blending it all together.

‘Cavalier’ is the type of song that can catch you out. It begins subtly and softly tucked into the background, next thing you know you are subconsciously clicking your fingers to the left and shaking your hips to the right to the plink-plonk of the hip hop-style piano chords. If you’re in public this could be very embarrassing. At first I thought this would be a melancholic song filled with regret (‘I remember my first love’) but as the crescendo hits with high notes and cymbals I realised that it is a song of celebration and positivity.


‘All Points’ intros with the muted, staccato-plucking of strings. These quick-paced notes intertwine with JVM’s lyrics for several verses until they reach the bridge. Here, they are met by a clarinet which flows underneath them, supporting the melody with fluid bass notes. It’s rare I hear a clarinet in pop music (apart from The Beatles – is that still pop?) and I think this is such a treat.

‘Post Tropical’ opens with a repetitive, urgent piano driving you into a chorus that is backed by the still-hip cowbell. It maintains the formula of the rest of the album with harmonies and full orchestra until, just when you think it’s over and the music stops, a united clapping begins. Accompanied by vocals that gradually intensify, this song ends on a high and inspiring note.

‘Glacier’, as the name suggests, is dramatic. The horn section gives the impression of density and majesty. A sense of movement is created by the percussion and pianos and as the song comes to a close, the solitude of each piano note evokes the image of ice melting. An atmospheric track, to say the least.

‘Red Dust’ instantly makes me think of Mars. The intro is sparse. This minimalism remains throughout the track. Harmonies are supported by a subtle percussion, and sporadic piano floats between the two. This track (perhaps due to the repetition) is one of the few where I can clearly make out JVM’s lyrics. ‘Sometimes I need someone to love, someone to hold’ he sings over and again.

Although Red Dust is the third track on the album I’ve left it until last because it sums up the essence of Post Tropical and JVM. Those lyrics, I think, we can all identify with. And that’s reassuring. That means I don’t mind that I can’t make out the majority of what he says throughout the album. The foundations of string and piano walled by brass and wind instruments, and bolted together with percussion; the dressing of harmonies and the strength and warmth of his voice allow you to feel at home.

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