Do you ever have that weekend where you want nothing more than to curl up with a good book and some amazing tunes? I know I do, so this is devoted to the lazy music lover in all of us. Long Play Saturday (or as I like to call it LP Saturday) is for those weekends where you want to kick back and put on an amazing record. Let's begin, shall we?
Album: Early in the Morning
Artist: James Vincent McMorrow
Label: Vagrant Records
Released: 25 January 2011
Similar Artists: Bon Iver, Ray Lamontange, Sufjan Stevens, and Bob Dylan
My Review: James Vincent McMorrow's first album blew me away. I remember the first time I heard his voice and I thought it was Bon Iver without all of the distortion. What makes this album so incredible, besides musically (did you know that JVM plays all the instruments and does all of the voice tracks on this album?...he does) This album reads like a story book, which makes sense considering that McMorrow spent six months holed up in a cabin on the Irish seaside in order to have complete seclusion whilst writing and recording the album. Lets get down to the down and dirty stuff, shall we?
Beginning with If I Had Boat (which McMorrow knew would be the opening track when he wrote it) there is a five part harmony and in the chorus we meet the characters that repeatedly come up through out the album “you” and “I”, beginning when McMorrow starts to belt out the chorus crying “If I had a boat, I would sail to you/ Hold you in my arms, ask you to be true/ Once I had a dream, it died long before/ Now I’m pointed North hoping for the shore” again, we are treated to fairytale lyrics and a declaration of opposites, in the last verse he states “this is not the end/ this is just the world/ such a foolish thing/ such an honest girl” this last verse infers that “you” is a girl, the phantom girl that shows up throughout the other songs, though is never given a proper name. Again, the track is heavy on the drums, tapering off just in time to sail into Hear the Noise that Moves so Soft and Low.
Unlike If I Had a Boat, Hear the Noise that Moves so Soft and Low begins with a single voice and guitar fading into a two part harmony quietly, mournfully stating “your love is gold, your love is gold/ seems as though we’ll be stuck out here for days” possibly discussing his seclusion, but also keeping with the love-theme that the album pivots around, in the chorus stating “my one, my only one/ lied twice and left me on/ gave chase and so we sung/ everything that ends has still begun” again, we see McMorrow playing with opposites again lyrically. Both songs seem to be discussing an epic sort of love, the kind that is often found in the world outside of imagination. Another aspect they McMorrow plays with on Sparrow and the Wolf.
Decidedly less hopeful than If I Had a Boat and Hear the Noise that Moves so Soft and Low; Sparrow and the Wolf explores the darker side of McMorrow lyrically, although it kicks of much lighter, faster paced with a rousing drum beat it sounds as though one should get ready to head off to the races. Oddly enough the lyrics seem to be doing the opposite. Again, a study that seems to be a favorite on the album, placing hopeful love songs to long, slow ballads and the sad end-of-love songs to upbeat rambunctious numbers. He states “confused by the wind, bruised by the size of the rain/ she turned in to him, begged for the light to remain/ but plans have been made, all the furniture sold/ so store up your hate, use it for warmth when you’re cold.”
He uses this oddity of upbeat, quick paced music backdrop for a less than love song again on Breaking Hearts a song that seems to be discussing the end of a relationship, but musically sounds like a relationship just beginning. The guitar riffs are not unlike those found in pop songs, the kind that race through to the chorus. The chorus itself states “I’ve been breaking hearts for far too long/ loving you for far too long/ making plans now, for far too long/ Yes I’ve been breaking hearts for far too long/ been loving you for far too long/ it’s time I left it’s time I’m moving on”.
In We Don’t Eat a song that was featured on both Grey’s Anatomy and The Vampire Diaries is has been available for free download from both Amazon and iTunes is the most fairytale-like of all the songs on the album. Recalling a time that could have been yesterday or two thousand years ago McMorrow pulls the opening piano riff (sounding suspiciously like Fake Empire by The National) into the strongest and most wonderful (personal opinion) track musically on the album. It is also the most depressing track lyrically stating “Am I an honest man and true/ Have I been good to you at all?/ Oh I’m so tired of playing these games/ We’d just be running down/ The same old lies, the same old stories/ Of breathless trains and worn down glories/ Houses burning, worlds that turn on their own” and crying during the chorus “So we don’t eat until your father’s at the table/ We don’t drink until the devil’s turn to dust/ Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love/ So if I were you my friend, I’d learn to have just a little bit of trust”. Again, McMorrow is sorting through opposites.
The Old Dark Machine is the song that really tells the story of the whole album musically. Throughout the song every instrument that is used on the album is used. McMorrow himself chose the track to be the first single stating that “musically it encompasses and ties together the entire album. It’s what the album is all about.” McMorrow sings of “orchids we had planted” and “they’ll remember us forever/ they’ll remember where we fell” again, back to the use of the two characters that riddle the album in a situation worthy of fairytale.
In Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree, Down the Burning Ropes, and From the Woods!! McMorrow discusses somewhat more heavy material, although musically the tracks are still shifting between fast and slow, beginning softly and growing into a loud climax around the second chorus before fading out again. All three of these tracks include lyrics about the main characters again in Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree McMorrow states: “I will wait for you there with these cindered bones/ so follow me follow me down” again in Down the Burning Ropes he sings “My love she’s overboard/ she’s overboard/ my love she’s overboard” and finally in From the Woods!! he practically shouts “from the woods, from the woods/ they are coming from the woods!!” However, in addition to teasing with the protagonists of the album, McMorrow also gives a running commentary on life in the outside, away from the population. Down the Burning Ropes discusses the “girl” leaving for a big city “past the places where the steel beam meet concrete skies” and even further in From the Woods!! as if the people are coming in from the outside, into nature from the cities.
In And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop McMorrow pours love into every note. Beginning much like If I Had a Boat with a five part harmony it’s the only song on the track that makes sense. A forlorn love song set to a forlorn tune. Heavy on the drum beat, melding with the background guitar swinging softly over the piano and bass. Lyrically it’s as though he is melding the world that came before Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree and the world after it stating “and in the forest I made my home/ lay down on hard and ancient stone/ then if my heart should somehow stop/ I’ll hang on to the hope/ that you’re not to late/ you’re not too late.” The song, which fades quietly into Early in the Morning, I’ll Come Calling is one that truly surmises the base of the album.
The closing tracks for the album are the title track Early in the Morning, I’ll Come Calling and We are Ghosts. Both songs have more banjo than the ones that came before, although still following the traditional musical outline of the album with the heavy drum beat. Although lyrically they discuss the future, a topic that may or may not have been discussed in the songs previous (it’s quite hard to tell). Early in the Morning, I’ll Come Calling states: “early in the morning, I’ll come calling, I’ll come calling after you/ darling if you answer, oh we’ll wander, down the garden where it’s cool”. A futuristic reference that is clear, he repeats this type of narrative in We Are Ghosts singing “And now I’m gone/ I will come again in Spring/ and the harvest can begin.” Keeping with the folk-tale mantra of the album, McMorrow is quite distinctly talking about the future.
The album Early in the Morning is an achievement, although it does tend to get musically repetitive, lyrically it’s magical. Taking the listener to far off places that are out of the reality we currently reside in. It is truly a mythical album lyrically, which is what, I think, McMorrow set out to do, and a goal that he very rightly achieved.