[J]anuary is a seemingly odd month to release an album entitled, Post Tropical. But don’t let the title and cover art fool you. James Vincent McMorrow’s sophomore album is a beautiful collection of songs about light and dark, warmth and cold and the stagnancy that sticks in between.
Though the days are growing longer, we’re constantly reminded that after days and days and days of frigid cold, the tiniest temperature increase or extra bit of sunshine can seem like a life saver. But when it comes down to it, this is winter. And we have a long way to go. “There is so little left from the warmth of the sun,” McMorrow repeats in Outside, Digging. As if repeating it over and over might make the words less true.
Compared to McMorrow’s first album, the sound is quite different. Early in the Morning, released in 2011, relied heavily on acoustic guitars. There are apparently none at all on Post Tropical. Instead we hear drums and synths that open tracks like Gold, and gorgeous layers of harp and sweeping horn arrangements that carry the chorus through. It’s one of the most surprisingly beautiful tracks on the album.
But between the songwriting and arrangements, we can sometimes forget that it’s McMorrow’s voice that is the real highlight. Red Dust showcases his voice with a simple backing beat as the song carries on. When the track levels out around the three-minute mark, McMorrow repeats: “Sometimes my hands don’t feel like my own. I need someone to love, I need someone to hold.”
McMorrow has always utilized nature in his songwriting. And while the lyrics are more abstract in Post Tropical, the complexity comes from replacing the woodsy acoustic guitar-focused sounds of his earlier work with more depth and layers in the horns, synths and harps.
The greatest delight in Post Tropical is that it sounds the same and different with every listen. It’s really all we can hope for during the cold slog of winter: though it seems never-ending, we can hope to find something new to believe in every day along the way. As McMorrow sings on Look Out, “so you come around as the weather starts to change, and you settle in. And the best has yet been made.”