James Vincent McMorrow’s True Care: A Track-by-Track Review

James Vincent McMorrow © AllPoints

Our Rating

James Vincent McMorrow is a musical enigma, time after time impressing long-time listeners with new advancements in his style and artistry. McMorrow’s latest album release, True Care, out today, is no exception to the longstanding pattern.

McMorrow’s soulful indie tracks hold a serenity and clarity in each note, sometimes muffled with mysterious emotion and discomfort. His songs range in which feelings they choose to provoke, some serving as an escape, others unravelling a musical confrontation of competing sounds and urgent messages. Together, they craft a beautiful, in-depth indie world, fit for a range of reactions and never proving to be inadequate.

True Care - James Vincent McMorrow

True Care – James Vincent McMorrow

True Care has proven to be a collection worthy of multiple listens, each time enveloping listeners in a new emotion or escape. From start to finish, the collection feels full in 80s inspired synths and haunting harmonies. It’s groovy and ominous. Aggressive and serene. Timely and timeless. It’s a collection of beautiful contradictions and perfect placement.

Atwood Magazine writers Nicole Almeida and Kelly Wynne dove into True Care track-by-track in order to make sure no detail of the complex album was left out in our dissection.


December 2914

Nicole: Perfect album opener. It announces a new age, new sound, new frame of mind. It has a strong and dreamy quality to it, bold like the age McMorrow wants to transport us to and just as mysterious. The shift to guitar in the middle of the song, stripping back the song ever so slightly to have the guitar and McMorrow’s voice and backing vocals take center stage, incorporates the signature elements of his old sound into his new one beautifully and shows us this is the future – not only the year 2914, but the future of McMorrow’s sound. The song ends unexpectedly and boldly, a move that is fitting to an album that is deliberately subverting the industry’s norms and to an artist who wants to make a statement.

Kelly: This track serves as a really great album opener, playing heavily with instrumentals, some electronically influenced. McMorrow’s voice, as on every track, is a soothing oasis compared to the strength of the strong, live-sounding instrumentals and gospel backup. The larger-than-life production of the track is a fitting introduction to what lies ahead, framing McMorrow’s voice in its best light and playing with production advances past what McMorrow has been known for in the past.

True Care

Kelly: Being the first single off of the album, “True Care” sets the tone for McMorrow’s image of the album as a whole. The song is a stand out due to its nearly sultry, slow and intriguing beat. As the song picks up around the two-minute mark, it feels a bit 80s inspired with a sonic instrumental riff, adding to the complexity of the track. The only word to describe it is groovy and completely attention-grabbing.

Nicole: “True Care” is sentimental, genuine, and raw. It’s rhythmic and invites the listener in with compelling storytelling and a melody that’s simple and catchy. McMorrow’s voice sounds divine, especially on the opening verse, and he plays to all of his strengths in the song, making it the perfect lead single for the album.

National

Nicole: “National” brings in the more familiar and warmer sound of a piano to the album, a direct contrast to the keyboard and synths that came on the two preceding tracks. McMorrow has said this is his favourite song on the album and to perform, which might be because of how personal it is. On the Genius annotations to “National”, McMorrow admits to being very private and finding it strange to have such important and intimate moments in his life shared with the world, but this is precisely what makes the track so special. He speaks about insecurities, opening up to a loved one, and endless possibility, and the importance of the song to McMorrow transpires throughout it and makes it one of the standout tracks on the album.

Kelly: In a tweet prior to the album’s release, McMorrow revealed“National” is one of his favorite songs to sing live. It’s easy to see why in the simplicity of its melody. The song is constructed on a lyrical basis with a mellow chord progression behind McMorrow’s vocal lead. It’s an impressive vocal performance, making for a stripped-down display of emotion-tugging notes. The song ends abruptly, leaving it feeling nearly unfinished in an intriguing way. Personally, the song is really awesome in my opinion because of its focus on indie-rock band “The National.”

Thank You

Kelly: “Thank You” returns to a more upbeat place, similar to “True Care” in experimentation with sonic instrumentals. The song solidifies the idea that McMorrow has chosen a more electronic-instrumental direction, similar to the recent advances of Bon Iver. While the two are comparable, McMorrow holds his own with more melodic approaches as opposed to Bon Iver’s mismatched electronic noise backgrounds. “Thank You” is packed with upbeat, almost tropical influences, making it a cheery and interesting combination of sounds.

Nicole: After the emotional rollercoaster of “National” comes “Thank You” , that is upbeat and very percussion-focused. It is uplifting for a song about nightmares and terrors, but this all makes sense once you realize he finds hope and strength in the “true love” he talks about at the end of the song. His voice is more manipulated and layered at certain times throughout the song, adding intensity to the feelings and fear he’s experiencing. The contrast between “Thank You” and “National” makes McMorrow’s and the album’s diversity and ambition impossible to ignore.

Interlude No. 1

Nicole: Fits the album aesthetic, as it is terribly easy to see the luminescent jellyfish from the album artwork floating around in the sea to this song. It’s nice to see McMorrow making instrumental tracks, since his voice has been one of, if not the most, prominent characteristics of his music so far. It also helps us be more conscious about the passage of time on the record, a relevant theme considering he starts the album off 900 years in the future.

Kelly: I have always been a fan of album interludes because of the dreamy and thought-provoking quality they provide in the midst of endless, heavily-built tracks. “Interlude No. 1” is no exception to my form of thinking. The ease of the lone instrumentals is exactly that: easy to get lost in and soothing enough to serve as a proper breather from the rest of the album. It gives a good sense of space and organization, refreshing listeners for what is next to come.

Constellations

Kelly: This moody track feels very jazz inspired. While the instrumentals still reside in that sonic/light synth zone, McMorrow’s writing pattern and overall instrumental composition reminds me of a classic jazz song, amped up with a modern beat and sound design. It’s another sultry track, creating and interesting depth. Around the 1:20 point, the direction of the track changes dramatically, becoming more of a power-anthem rather than a late night mood track. It’s an interesting mix of textures. At 2:20 the track spins yet again, this time with a simple, cheery beat. It’s something you can hear Chance the Rapper singing over. With that, the very mismatched track ends leaving listeners wondering what will happen next.

Nicole: This song explores the idea of romance in such detail and wonder that it seems like McMorrow is exploring the depths of space. His metaphor of people being constellations, and love consequently being an exchange of energies, is extremely powerful. He asks questions he leaves unanswered, probably allowing for the listener to reflect and answer them himself. The song also ends unexpectedly, but the way it does almost reminds you of how a star burns and dies, fitting the song’s theme very well.

Holding On

Nicole: What’s particularly striking to me about the song is the contrast between McMorrow’s layered and manipulated voice in the first verse and how he spends the rest of the song almost screaming, all manipulation gone. It shows such genuine emotion, and I think this makes it extremely powerful.

Kelly: I resurrect my previous comment concerning McMorrow and Bon Iver’s comparison. This track has McMorrow playing with some sort of vocoder for background effect, similar to the advances of Bon Iver. I have to admit, out of the tracks on the album, “Holding On” is one of my least favorites because I feel it’s aiming in the direction of mismatched, passionate vocals over not-perfectly-connected instrumentals. The song does feel like it comes together a bit later on. It’s by no means a bad track, just different in comparison to those on the album I’d consider my favorite.

Bears

Kelly: “Bears” has a really awesome beat to it. Its production is a standout in my mind because of its intricate simplicity. The lyrical melody is simple and alluring. All around, the track is a standout because of its welcoming feel, a true song that feels perfectly constructed from the smallest details to the loudest statements.

Nicole: McMorrow uses the image of a bear as a metaphor representing a threat, not taking things for granted, and the unexpected. “Bears” might be the most relevant song on the album today, at least from a societal and universal perspective, with thought-provoking lines like “violence on the streets” and “bears don’t give a fuck about what you want”. The juxtaposition of the lighthearted, high-pitched melody with the song’s strong message makes for an interesting listen, one which will only ensure that the song will be completely understood if listened to attentively.

Pink Salt Lake

Nicole: “Pink Salt Lake” is probably one of the most memorable songs on the album. From the first measure, you can see how well-crafted and thought through it was. A song about doubt and insecurity in a relationship, with a lyric and question that rings in your ears long after the song: “If time is inevitable/ How could you leave me alone?”. The tension builds up gradually throughout the song but fades quickly, leaving suspense and mystery in the mind of who’s listening.

Kelly: I think one of the best parts about this album, which I have yet to mention, is the way McMorrow has decided to fade into each of his tracks. Many of them start with mysterious instrumental lead ins, most changing shape as the track picks up. “Pink Salt Lake’s” introduction is reminiscent of spa music, eventually registering as something mildly unsettling, only later amplified by McMorrow’s abrupt vocals. The song feels urgent and slightly disastrous in a compelling way.

Interlude No. 2

Kelly: After the welcomed abrupt emotional turmoil “Pink Salt Lake” inflicted, another interlude sounded like a good idea. In comparison to “Interlude No. 1,” “Interlude No. 2” is a bit more uplifting rather than reflective. The first interlude encouraged an internalized reflection whereas this second break feels like an external manifestation of something bigger to come.

Nicole: McMorrow says this interlude is “moving from the present to the abstract future” – it pulses at the start, grows in vibrancy, intensity, and colour, until we suddenly arrive in the future he wants to show us.

Bend Your Knees

Nicole:  “Bend Your Knees” is one of the sunniest songs on the album, and it’s very sonically cohesive. Unlike on other songs on the album, there are little unexpected twists and turns, and this gives the listener the chance to pay attention to the lyrics and McMorrow’s voice. His voice and the synths blend really well, which makes for an extremely pleasant listen.

Kelly: This track is another simple moment in McMorrow’s interesting wave of intensity. The intelligent placement of accelerated emotion in the tracklist is something that makes the album feel complete and completely unique. The vocal and instrumental make up can be compared to “45” by Bon Iver. It’s a smooth and vocally impressive break from the moments of extreme commotion in the collection.

Change of Heart

Kelly: The out-tuned intro to this track pays homage to that borderline creepy (in a good way), 80s synth we’ve been hearing in select placements throughout the album. The power of McMorrow’s vocals play well with the purposeful uneasiness of the track’s production, again, making an interesting combination of textures and a unique composition.

Nicole: “To love is to damage” is one of McMorrow’s Genius annotations on the lyrics of “Change of Heart”. The fairly brief but impactful song speaks of romantic love, the love of a son, the love of a king to it’s people, exploring the balance between loving and hurting the ones you do. The song’s most remarkable moment is the explosive repetition of “if you have a change of heart” at the end, which finishes the song off just on the right note.

Glad it’s Raining

Nicole: This song seems to be “National” ’s older and happier brother. Like the aforementioned song, it’s composed of the familiar and warm sounds of a piano and the drums, but it’s more upbeat and brighter-sounding. It gives a new side to the record, especially following “Bend Your Knees” and “Change of Heart”, but is a nice break from the synths and electronic sounds. It doesn’t invite you to get lost inside the song, it asks you to pay attention, maybe even dance a little to it, expanding the realms of your experience when listening to the album.

Kelly: “Glad It’s Raining” is another track with very classic production inspiration. The track is joyful, despite lyrics about complaining. It’s another track that stands for the say joy and energy of a Chance the Rapper production design, but McMorrow’s vocal tone takes the sound to a very indie place.

Don’t Wait Forever

Kelly: Another simple moment is provided in “Don’t Wait Forever’s” minimal production. The beat is not nearly as apparent as others on the track, but the layering of harmonies makes the song feel full and interesting in approach.

Nicole: In a song filled with snow and time imagery, McMorrow sings, or almost speaks, about the passage of time. It is distant and cold, finishing off the last sung track on the album just as far as the date that started it, December 2914.

Outro

Nicole: The album’s last song does an exceptional job of gradually making us drift away from the world McMorrow sucked us into in the first place and bringing us back to real life. There’s a slight nostalgia in leaving, but comfort in knowing True Care and this world are only one click away.

Kelly: The outro is a great addition to this album, bookending it with another moment of solitude and peace of mind. The track allows listeners to disconnect and leave the wavy world of McMorrow’s creation with a sense of peace and enjoyment, perfectly tying up the ends to an impressive and creative album.

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It is undeniable that James Vincent McMorrow has made a creative, artistic, and ambitious statement with True Care. He maintains his extremely personal and open songwriting style, while taking risks and diving into new sonic territories. Ultimately, despite being filled with intimate moments of his personal life, True Care becomes less about McMorrow and more about the world he creates with the album. There is an ethereal, three-dimensional quality to it that is hard to achieve, especially when you consider that this album was crafted over the course of four months after the release of We Move, McMorrow’s third album. True Care is an experience, of sound, of image, of emotion, but most of all it’s about being human and everything that comes along with it. In transporting us 900 years into the future, McMorrow manages to get us to ponder about what we’re living now, making True Care a milestone in his career and evidence that taking risks and not following the rules sometimes pays off.

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True Care - James Vincent McMorrow

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:: James Vincent McMorrow :: Tour 2017 ::

06/03 – The Roots Picnic – Philadelphia, PA

06.04 – Fort York – Toronto, Canada

06/06 – The Magic Bag – Ferndale, MI

06/07 – The Hi-Fi – Indianapolis, IN

06/09 – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival – Manchester, TN

06/10 – Terminal West @ King Plow Arts Center – Atlanta, GA

06/11 – Haw River Ballroom – Saxapahaw, NC

06/13 – Jefferson Theater – Charlottesville, VA

06/14 – Mr Smalls Theatre – Millvale, PA

06/15 – Brooklyn Steel – Brooklyn, NY

The Breakdown