James Vincent McMorrow's debut album, 2011's Early In The Morning, wound up as my No. 5 album of that year. His follow-up, Post Tropical, was released way back in the second week of January, the first release I was anticipating this year, and it takes a special album to hold its place as one of the year's best all the way to year's end. But Post Tropical did just that and it comes in at #4 in my favorite albums of 2014.
McMorrow was a bit pigeonholed after his first album as another folkie, not hard to understand given the majority of the songs were based around the acoustic guitar. Early In The Morning WAS a folk-pop album, and a damn great one at that. But JVM made it a point in interviews promoting this second album that he didn't care to fall under any label, he just wanted to make great music. And Post Tropical is proof he did exactly that.
The first sign things would be a bit different for the sophomore album came with the first song released. "Cavalier" is a stunner as McMorrow's falsetto reaches amazing heights on what can only be described as a soul ballad. It is one of many astounding vocal performances on Post Tropical. McMorrow has his full range on display throughout, from lead vocals to multi-tracked backing vocals and harmonies created with himself. The second song released, "Red Dust", is equally impressive. I first heard this performed last year in Ann Arbor at a solo acoustic show and the transformation from acoustic ballad to electro-R&B is fantastically realized.
Thankfully the rest of the album lives up to the promise of the first two preview tracks. Even though a lot of the stories I have read about Post Tropical make note of the shift in sound, it is not as if McMorrow completely abandoned his folk direction. Songs like "Gold", "Repeating" and "Looking Out" all easily could have fit on his debut album and acoustic guitars and piano are still prominent. But there is an emphasis on keyboards, electronic beats and claps and a more soulful approach to the music this time around, see tracks like the title cut, "All Points" and "Glacier", and it all works beautifully.
James Vincent McMorrow set the bar high early in 2014 and only three other albums ended up eclipsing it as my favorite of the year. Post Tropical is a vocal tour de force, dripping with heart, soul and melody.
Favorite tracks: "Cavalier", "Red Dust", "Looking Out", "Glacier"
Post Tropical was released January 14, 2014 via Vagrant Records.