The American songwriter questions it all on his divine fifth album, a remarkable achievement that may serve as a companion and guide in tough times
I was on my way to a funeral when Kevin Morby’s ‘Oh My God’ truly clicked. Starting out on a five-hour journey to a seaside town, it seemed that now, more than ever, an album about spirituality and the things that make us human would feel so important. From the contemplative ballads, heavenly motifs and soaring choirs, it’s an album to feel something to. Even if you don’t know what that feeling constitutes, or if it’ll ever come around again, at least it’s there and probing you for a reaction. How often you can say that about an album today?
On any terms, and minus this writer’s minor existential crisis, Morby’s fifth solo album is simply breathtaking. Billed as his “first true concept album” and actually penned before his last album, 2017’s ‘City Music’, was released, ‘Oh My God’ is another startling record from one of America’s most evocative songwriters – a musing on our modern-day relationship with faith, whatever shape or form they take.
“It’s not a born-again thing,” he says in an accompanying blurb. “It’s more that ‘Oh My God’ is such a profound statement we all use multiple times a day and means so many different things. It’s not about an actual God but a perceived one.”
Worship has been at the core of Morby’s music for some time, though. Wherever Morby has been and whatever he observed, be that Mt. Washington, a small community on the outskirts of Los Angeles (on 2015’s ‘Singing Saw’), or the hustle and bustle of New York City (on 2017’s ‘City Music’), fragments of those experiences have emerged in nostalgic and awe-inspiring fashion. ‘Oh My God’, however, is devoid of a specific place or time.
It’s a new challenge for Morby, and he approaches it with candour. On the album’s finest moment, ‘Seven Devils’, he’s at his wit’s end (“Why did you come into my life? / What was I supposed to learn from all of this?”), as sparse piano stabs and screeching guitar solos whirl around him. Similarly on the hypnotic and plodding ‘Piss River’, there’s contemplation about life, death and morality via truly astonishing lyricism. “I pray that no devil gets inside my brain / As the world does its twirl between the moon and the sun,” he croons, later grateful for merely making it through the day: “What a dream to have ever felt the air so warm / What a dream to have even ever been born”.
‘Oh My God’ is a dense listen and though there are more immediate moments (the raucous ‘OMG Rock n Roll’ and the shapeshifting ‘Hail Mary’ are two examples), you can let this album wash over you and wallow in its most intense songs, for they are the ones that will linger longest. Like the twinkling ‘Sing A Glad Song’, a cut not too dissimilar to the aura of ‘Singing Saw’, or the pensive ‘I Want To Be Clean’, a song that’d nestle in nicely into the folksy spirit of second album ‘Still Life’.
This is a remarkable achievement, one that proves that Morby remains on top form. Let ‘Oh My God’ be your companion and guide. You won’t immediately learn the meaning of it all, but there’s more than enough here to spark some seismic internal reflection, wherever you’ve come from or are heading to next.
Release Date: April 26, 2019
Record Label: Dead Ocean