JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW
THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE Impressive falsetto + subtle beats = spooky, satisfying Dublin soul
With a falsetto so thick you could dive in and swim around in it, Dublin singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow could have simply made a sparse vocal album similar to his version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” showcased on “Game of Thrones.” Instead, on “We Move” (Mahogany Books / Burning Rope), he tethers his satisfying voice to a layered electronic sound created by Drake-Nicki Minaj producer Nineteen85, and what comes out is a sort of reimagination of funk and soul music, wispy and soaring like Antony and the Johnsons, always set to taut beats.
McMorrow, 33, writes in love-letter fragments: “I lie calling you,” “If I could change, if I could change, if you could save me,” “If I’m evil,” “Don’t let fear control you,” “Remember when my hands turned blue” — and repeats them until they turn into love songs. Nineteen85 rides the wave of McMorrow’s swelling choruses, beefing up the hook to “One Thousand Times” with an electro-snare, arranging twiddly guitars, electronic pianos and harmonies underneath “Last Story” and orchestrating “Evil” with big synths and finger snaps.
The opening “Rising Water” belongs on any radio playlist that ran Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” into the ground; it’s deeper, more complex and more satisfying. The “Get Low” transition from strummed guitar to “heard you’re getting married” is beautifully lonely.
Many pop singers have channeled this kind of super-high vocal style into a spooky hybrid of folk, soul and rock and roll — Isaak, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Sam Smith, Dusty Springfield, even Roy Orbison. McMorrow and Nineteen85 are after something a bit different, and their approach to “We Move” sometimes recalls Marvin Gaye’s 1978 album “Here, My Dear,” with its desperate words and subtly pulsing funk. “We Move” is more melodic, though, and a listen or two to “Rising Water,” “One Thousand Times” and the closing simple-piano ballad “Lost Angles” should be enough for addiction.