Kevin Morby’s solo career can quite succinctly be defined by the concept of place. His debut album ‘Harlem River’ was an ode to New York City, and 2016’s brooding ‘Singing Saw’ was quite obviously influenced from his time writing and recording it in the gloomy shadow of Mount Washington, New Hampshire.
Fourth LP ‘City Music’ then, adheres to this pattern. He confirms this in an accompanying note to the album, calling it both “a fever dream” and “a love letter dedicated to those cities that I cannot get rid of”. From the outset it makes clear that it features songs that aren’t rooted in any one place or time, but are effortlessly stitched together to create a dynamic mapping of modern urban existence.
As a result, Morby kicks open a gaping window into his life – his travels, his displacement and the troubles that often come with them. Album opener ‘Come To Me Now’ personifies this sense of loneliness, “I can’t wait for the sun to go down / tired of squinting at this ugly little town”, he croons over serene organ chords. The twinkling folk-ballad ‘Dry Your Eyes’ likewise tackles alienation in no uncertain terms, “I go to a city square just to see who, or what I’m gonna find there / But there ain’t no soul I know”.
That’s not to say ‘City Music’ is a morose and damning experience, there’s glimmers of compassion and vibrance scattered throughout the fragments of Morby’s psych. Like on the joy-filled ‘Aboard My Train’, where he outs himself as possibly the only person in the world who enjoys riding on a sweaty, packed-out train with total strangers, or the tongue-in-cheek, Ramones-referencing punk number ‘1234’. But it’s the album’s centrepiece, the nearly-seven-minute-long title-track “City Music’ where intertwining guitars riffs culminate in a exuberant trip “downtown”, one that offers the most life-affirming take on life in the big smoke – even if it’s only there for a split-second.
Going forward, it’s tough to know just where Morby will veer towards next, though judging by his latest collection of songs – it doesn’t matter quite where he goes, or whether he even likes it – he’ll likely make a success of it either way.