by: Timothy Michalik (@timothybleached)
Before Kevin Morby's 2016 opus Singing Saw, the third album under his belt as a solo musician, he had become somewhat of the unknown soldier for the Brooklyn indie rock scene. Starting the noisy-folk band Woods, for which he played bass, fronting garage rockers The Babies with Cassie Ramone, and playing alongside Ramone's solo projects, Morby's success as a one man show wasn't coming anytime soon. As Morby was shaping his sound with 2013's Harlem River and 2014's Still Life, he had finally found his true voice with 2016's Singing Saw - an album of biblical proportions - zeroing in on his self-fostered mystique and his remarkably slick musicianship. Within a year of recording Singing Saw, Morby, alongside his live band that includes guitarist Meg Duffy, AKA Hand Habits, bassist Cyrus Gengras, and drummer Nick Kinsey, headed to the celestial Stinson Beach, California - a creative hub for past artists - and went on to record a victory lap for Singing Saw. What came about after that is City Music, an ode to the cities of Morby's past, and one of his breeziest works to date.
Noticeably lengthier than his previous effort, City Music acts as the yin to Singing Saw's yang: If Singing Saw was a mushroom-induced trip to the desert, City Music very much feels like the comedown of that trip, heading back to the city as the dust settles, and your brain's chemicals begin to reset. Although it may seem lackluster as an artistic effort, City Music acts as a protraction to Singing Saw's antecedents. It is, at times, a punkier approach to Morby's style, a style that was left to rot on Singing Saw.
Stripped down to say the least, Morby intentionally swaps his tranquil style for an array of stylistic approaches; some punk, some spoken word, some excessive guitar solos. Although the mood may reminisce the after-thoughts of his previous album, this time around, the political ambivalence is replaced with a longing for self composure. However, in 2017, it's relieving to escape the national dialogue of politics. Too often is modern music politically charged, eventually making the point the artists are trying to make irrelevant. It can quickly morph into the next social trend, losing its grit, or its original intention. Where other's drown in the next "in" thing, Morby floats above them, washing up to shore a new man, one who beats his own drum.
Although City Music isn't quite as conceptually pleasing as Singing Saw, it is Morby's most poetic endeavor. The wisdom that Morby has gained from traveling the world, experiencing new cities, new cultures, and new ways of life is brazen, and it directly reflects his abilities as an artist. Much like Neil Young, Morby has the aptness to make consistently solid music, and gives himself plenty of growing room. At times like these, it's comforting to know that there is somebody who truly seeks balance in the world, let alone somebody who can help you forget about all of it. Digest it how you will, City Music makes one thing absolute - Kevin Morby is a man with a certain allure; a living, breathing interpretation of past folk-rockers.