Recorded on a pecan farm just outside the Mexican border, Post Tropical is a collection of tracks that demands attention for fear of being misunderstood. This is a record that is as much a seduction as it is a thesis of longing; his last record was borne by a similar process, exiled to the west, McMorrow wrote Early In The Morning and was hailed as the next indie-folk icon. Second albums can be difficult for artists struggling with establishing a sound, especially after a successful debut, the question for many: was McMorrow to replicate the success of his first record or diverge completely?
Luckily he chose the latter and Post Tropical emerges as a beautiful record imbued with all the former grace and delicacy of his first recording with a new found appreciation for hip-hop rhythms and soulful R&B. Opening with the lead single ‘Cavalier’ is certainly one of the few songs capable of a radio edit on Post Tropical. It sets the pace as a slow burner, his signature piercing falsetto appears early and continues throughout, intensifying with the addition of a Rhodes, as the lyrics “I remember my first love” culminate in a crescendo of horns and cymbals contrasting with the prior minimalism.
Continuing on, ‘The Lakes’ opens with McMorrow replicating a waterfall, as a twinkling harp accompanies a soft chorus of backing vocals and a piano; as one of the highlights of the album it’s a shame that it declines towards the end; modulated vocals to push his pitch even higher seem too much and lose their elegance skirting Alvin the Chipmunk territory.
Playing each instrument himself, the most conscious decision is undoubtedly the noticeable apparent lack of guitar; while piano’s and harps infuse themselves into the record, it seems to me at least that this record reflects on what Walt Whitman would have called Halcyon Days. One other song that loses itself to the grandiosity of the experience is ‘Gold’, a more upbeat track which ends with an overbearing swell of cluttered instruments. Tracks such as ‘All Points’, ‘Look Out’ and title track ‘Post Tropical’ all do well to avoid that mistake and gently glisten among the rest with McMorrow’s vocals taking precedent.
Two of the strongest tracks of the collection come in the form of ‘Red Dust’ and the penultimate ‘Glacier’. The former opens with ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and other assorted vowels which set a foundation allowing McMorrow to build one of his most impressive songs to date. The previously withheld percussion, while restrained, is welcomed as layered vocals drip in melancholia repeating “sometimes my hands they don’t feel like my own, I need someone to love, I need someone to hold”. There’s a beautiful simplicity that McMorrow lends to his lyrics; choosing brevity and repetition is a bold move but one that displays a deserving confidence, some tracks become hymnal for it.
For those that are weary of James’ new departure, ‘Glacier’ is most similar to his previous work and showcases his lower range perfectly; a song that arguably rests more on lyrics than performance, percussive claps and ghostly harmonies carry the melody which sparingly rises to shrill levels. Post Tropical is devoid of the pretentious airs and graces associated with many of the albums it will inevitably be compared to. This is a record which is sparse in instrumentation but far from empty, on first listen Post Tropical seems almost morose, however it is quite the opposite. It is soaked in revelatory joy and McMorrow has created a piece of art that best reflects his future as a musician.