Stunning sophomore album

James Vincent McMorrow released his debut album “Early in the Morning” in 2011, earning him widespread praise and comparisons to indie folk stars Bon Iver and Damien Rice. Recorded in a beach house in his native Ireland, the album was filled with simple but well-crafted folk songs heavily featuring acoustic guitar. When he released the single “Cavalier” in October 2013, fans and critics alike were stunned by the radical departure from the folk sound they were used to. Opening with bare vocals and a warm, electric piano, “Cavalier” builds into a lush, multi-textured sound with horns, drums and heavy electric bass. The only thing linking us to the artist from 2011 are the ethereal falsetto vocals, and it left many wondering just what this year’s release was going to sound like.

“Post Tropical” certainly sounds nothing like its predecessor, and that’s exactly what McMorrow wanted. Subscribing to the belief that artists should not repeat themselves, he set out to push his songwriting into vastly different territory than the subdued folk on his debut. The result is an incredible album, filled with synthesizers, handclaps, lush vocal harmonies and unsurprisingly very little acoustic guitar.

The main attraction here is McMorrow’s incredible voice, which sighs and soars over 10 diverse tracks, holding them all together. Most of the performances are delivered in a delicate falsetto recorded very close to the microphone, exposing us to every facet of his voice. This really helps convey a sense of emotion, especially in a track like “Glacier,” which opens and closes with sparse piano behind McMorrow’s naked vocal. And when we finally do hear his full voice, in the middle of the same track, it’s hard not to be blown away by the amount of power and control he has as a singer. These moments provide the most moving sections of the album, and it’s to his credit that McMorrow knows exactly when to let them happen, as their infrequency is a large reason for their effectiveness.

This album also demonstrates McMorrow’s excellent talent as a songwriter and arranger. Instruments are introduced subtly and tastefully as each song rises and falls along with the vocal line, like in “All Points.” Space is respected here, with vocal harmonies and horn arrangements being used to serve the song, rather than overwhelm. Even on a busy track like “Gold,” the dense instrumentation finds a way to save space by presenting slow, plaintive melodies that don’t distract from the main melody.

Ultimately, “Post Tropical” achieves something that all great albums strive for: it presents 10 distinct songs, while still maintaining a unified sound and identity as a whole. This diversity will draw in a lot of different listeners, with something to offer all of them. Folk fans familiar with his first album will hear similar chords and harmony, while those who prefer heavier music will hear electric guitar, drums and heavy grooves. Pop music fans will be drawn to the vocal presence and synth instrumentation, and McMorrow’s voice is what will keep everyone listening, providing common ground and unifying this incredible album.

5 stars out of 5.

DOWNLOAD NOW: “Cavalier”