Review | James Vincent McMorrow’s We Move is too clean for its own good

James Vincent McMorrowWe Move

We Move

[Faction Records]

St. Vincent once claimed that she wanted to write dance music that could be played at a funeral. On his latest LP, James Vincent McMorrow may just have achieved the opposite: funeral-appropriate music that you could (just about) get away with playing in the club.

We Move is the most James Vincent McMorrow James Vincent McMorrow record yet: a catchy, beat driven paean to introverted misery that manages to bring its listener down while still making them tap their feet. The record is a smooth, polished, almost perfect representation of a sound he’s been honing since his first release, but it’s this perfection which leaves We Move a little cold. Everything is a little too well put together, leaving an album that should be punching its listener in the emotional guts feel a little same-y, and in its lowest point, kind of boring.

Up-tempo opener ‘Rising Water’ kicks things off in a disarmingly sharp manner, ripping briskly along yet maintaining that haunting ethereal quality that is McMorrow’s established modus operandi by now, building up and intricately produced beat and let the shimmering vocals echo around it. ‘Last Story’ massages an even more groovy, club-ready electronica sound into the McMorrow formula, with the result sounding as if a more dynamic song has been flattened into James Vincent’s particular monochrome mood.

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There’s loads of power packed into a small space across the opening few tracks of We Move (there’s even a full choir coming in at the perfectly chosen moments to add the calculated amount of punch to proceedings), but it’s all been neatly arranged within such a cold and tidy structure that it feels a bit static, even clinical. Despite a vocal delivery that practical drips emotional resonance, the songs themselves feel a little sterile.

Elsewhere the guitar-led ‘Get Low’ threatens to break free from the mould with its nifty riff and fragile balanced interplay of McMorrow’s voice and that of his backing singers (or an electronically modified version of his own voice, it’s hard to tell for sure, which is a nice touch). But the interesting potential of the song still finds a way to morph in the direction of everything else. Nobody could accuse McMorrow of failing to find a distinctly personal sound and knowing how to stick to what works – but a little more variation along the lines hinted at on standout tracks like ‘Get Low’ wouldn’t have done any harm.

Instead, we get what seems at times like an exercise in delivering more of the same. ‘Killer Whales’ is a swimming, reverberating, shimmer of a track in which we’re treated to delicate moments of human fragility that are evocative, but structurally fairly safe. It’s all very neat, coloured carefully within the lines in a few carefully selected complimenting shades.

We Move reaches its gently-achieved climax on ‘Lost Angles’; an achingly beautiful piano number that is sure to become a certified moment in McMorrow’s live shows. His soaring vocal delivery achieves just the right blend of ethereal angelic tenderness and rock band frontman-level delivery – a barely-there wisp of sound that manages to rise above the music around it and envelop the listener in its distinct mood.

It’s an achingly tender moment in an album full of beautiful happenings. So it’s a shame that such moments don’t build to anything slightly more, and when listened to in its entirety, We Move ends up sounding a little too clean cut and samey, too committed to the clean perfection of intricate arrangement and production to give the visceral heart of the songs enough room to do their thing.