Restlessly searching for home and hearth

As the world witnesses the tumultuous American presidential elections, let's wax lyrical about outgoing honcho Barack Obama, whose wisdom cannot be overstated.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek," he once opined.

James Vincent McMorrow intuits this very well. Over the course of three albums - a folksy debut Early In The Morning (2010), a soulful Post Tropical (2014) and now, a clearly R&B We Move - the Dubliner is the epitome of change.

Much like alt-folk contemporaries Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens, who started quiet and suddenly tore up the script and went loud, McMorrow doesn't rest on his laurels.



    James Vincent McMorrow

    Believe Recordings

    4/5 stars

We Move is restlessly searching for home and hearth, even if that means uprooting yourself from your hometown to spend time in Barcelona, London, Toronto and Los Angeles, the last city where most of the songs on this album came together.

It feels free, relieved of the weight of expectations he's carried his entire life. The first song, Rising Water, is his poppiest and most direct yet, a propulsive doozie that is as much self-affirmation as a statement of rejuvenation.

"Because you make me feel alive/In spite of rising water/Abandoning my car/About a mile from nowhere," goes the humdinger of a chorus.

His falsetto rides easily over the motorik bass, addicted to speed and the adrenaline of the unknown. There's danger and he could get lost or get himself killed, but you know he's happy and that's what matters.

He's confronting the demons at the back of his mind. He admits his crippling mental fragility, of being stuck at home "trying to convince myself to go out and get milk".

To that end, he has elicited the help of producers du jour Nineteen85 (Drake, dvsn), Two Inch Punch (Sam Smith) and Frank Dukes (Rihanna, Kanye West) to take him outside acoustic confines to a bold, new, electronic world.

The soulful confessional I Lie Awake Every Night unearths a deepseated secret - as a teenager, he battled an eating disorder that left him in a mental-health unit weighing about a shocking 30kg.

"Put my head through my window instead of talking," he relives the horror as soporific beats trudge, dragging him through the mud. "That's the way I like it, I like it/I like all of you," he coos, vacillating between delicious hurt and pleading for help.

The passive-aggressiveness gives way to ardour; an open letter to someone he loves, or maybe it is just an interior monologue to get himself out of the rabbit hole.

"What if I could change, if I could change if you save me?" he asks in One Thousand Times, an anachronistic 1980s-sounding pop ditty with bright synths and thudding bass. And so it has come full circle. To move forward, one must clear one's closet, kick the front door open and take in the fresh air.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Restlessly searching for home and hearth'. Subscribe