Gaining significant traction through a venerable Game of Thrones endorsement, covering Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ for the show’s Season 6 trailer, you got the sense it was a prelude to greater things for James Vincent McMorrow. The Irish troubadour found home in wisps and fragments on 2014’s ‘Post Tropical’ — not averse to letting the listener get lost in strands, as he melded bluesy inflections with folksy wafting. Now on third LP ‘We Move’, McMorrow’s sound is more functional than ever, imbued with a sense of pop that endorses his desire to be a little more emotionally vacant.
Shaped by an unerring yearning to step out his comfort zone, McMorrow traverses new territories, nomadically recording ‘We Move’ in London, Miami, LA and Toronto. And it shows in the collaborators cherry-picked to redefine his sound. Utilising the tension and space that has become a moniker of the OVO sound, McMorrow adopts the layered electronics of Drake’s go-to producer and collaborator Nineteen85. Take the stirring ‘Rising Water’, cognisant of the appeal when you meld ‘80s synthesisers with modern R&B sensibilities. It imbues a more urgent, altogether “now” appeal to his brand of sleepy folktronica. McMorrow’s honey-tinged whispers are replaced by more resonant, amplified vocals, his falsetto still a steadfast calling card, only this time it doesn’t get misplaced by atmospherics. This is where the legacy of Kanye’s ‘808’s Heartbreak’ is acknowledged, McMorrow contorting and duplicating his voice on tracks like ‘Killer Whales’, invoking the former’s use of vocal manipulation that resonate that much harder.
Lyrically, ‘We Move’ is home to some of McMorrow’s densest lyrics. He still ruminates and idly muses, but there’s some tangible pain and loss present, McMorrow struggling to reconcile his younger self and an old flame on ‘Last Story’, an evocative slow burner. ‘Get Low’ is a singular R&B jam with lush guitar licks, a call and response number that invokes the seedier underbelly of LA’s social circles — McMorrow incongruous but fascinated with his new surroundings. It’s refreshing to witness McMorrow navigate relationships old and new under a more prolific guise, unafraid the influence of others sonically and personally has on his output.
McMorrow loyalists may bemoan the polished sheen that characterises the tracks on ‘We Move’, but there is some genuine pop-soul mastery at display here, McMorrow’s sound more wholesome without renouncing the spectral quality that characterised his earlier material.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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