Close your eyes. Imagine being on your way to work, standing in a ram-packed train… oh right I forgot you don’t need your imagination for that. It’s part of your daily routine. Although you would be wise to close your eyes every now and then and listen to Kevin Morby who made some nice music to commute by.
You know how it goes, sometimes music needs some maturing. Usually it takes me a few years before I accept the big names in my collection. As an example, I just recently came to terms with The XX. I know it’s stupid so I decided to stop this stubbornness from now on.The much hyped Kevin Morby should be the first to get a fair chance because his latest has been in-and-out my thoughts since summer. No really, I was blocking it because of the coffee bar buzz surrounding his name. Well, bye bye blockade and hello City Music.
Since Morby left The Babies to pursue a solo career he released three albums which all were picked up positively in the indie scene. Especially last year’s Singing Saw got people’s attention… in the coffee bars. Here, Morby, repolished his voice by tapping in on Kurt Vile’s intimated and distant way of conversational singing. Where Vile heavily leans on the lethargic Morby is more of a storyteller. Without shifting his style very much Morby now maps todays urban life without shunning much of its soft and rough edges.
Funny enough Morby did not record City Music somewhere in a congested city. Instead he and his fellow bandmembers chose the spend a week in a Californian studio with views over the Pacific to do the job. City Music’s sound is laidback and warm and therefore out of touch with the image people usually have when they think of the daily bustle. This dreamy approach combined with lyrics about everyday city life make the album very appealing for the average commuter. A train ride to a working place where days differ but shit stays the same never felt so relaxing.
Morby touches a varied range of themes on City Music. Dullness and the longing for some excitement come into play on the album’s opening track ‘Come To Me Now’. Luckily excitement is found by him soon on in the song ‘1234’ which is a surfy rock and roll ode to The Ramones and all weirdos living New York. For Morby the big city also is about loneliness. In watery ballad Morby sings: “I go to a city square just to see who, or what I’m gonna find there. But there ain’t no soul I know”. It’s in this manner the albums jumps from theme to theme and from atmosphere to atmosphere like a subway crawling on a below and above ground track.
On several occasions Morby shows himself from the romantic side. On ‘Night Time’ and ‘Downtown Lights’ he intimately reflects on the madness of living within the masses. People are running from one fire into another trying to escape their destinies. This dark reflectiveness gets a more positive twist on melodious ‘Tin Can’. From the inside of a tin can high up in the sky Morby realizes that he’s just a stranger among strangers. He’s nothing more than a face in the all consuming crowd and with that comes freedom. He sings: “I am a visitor here. I am a prisoner here. But I don’t mind”, letting out a shout of excitement at the end of that sentence.
Another tracks that stands out is the title track which is made up of long instrumental guitar sections with a Japanese touch and the repeating vocals “Oh that city music, Oh that city sound”. In almost seven minutes subtle adjustments and tempo changes keep the track interesting just at the moments.
To wrap-up, City Music is very pleasant listen that offers various relaxing and fun highlights. The playful leaps Morby makes every now and then between rock, folk, punk and slacker pop sometimes feel like too much of a good thing though. Luckily that’s something most of us city dweller should be able to handle with ease.
Label: Dead Oceans, 2017
- Come to Me Now (4:51)
- Crybaby (3:56)
- 1234 (1:47)
- Aboard My Train (3:15)
- Dry Your Eyes (4:12)
- Flannery (0:40)
- City Music (6:44)
- Tin Can (4:50)
- Caught in My Eye (3:33)
- Night Time (6:03)
- Pearly Gates (3:52)
- Downtown’s Lights (4:19)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 300817