at the outset of her career, it appeared as if morly would be content exploring the emotional ceiling of minimal, ambient-indebted dance music. much of her debut ep, in defense of my muse, operates within these confines; only on its finale does she finally allow us to hear her voice. in that context, “drone poem (in defense of my muse)” was an anomaly, but now it feels much more like a prelude.
morly’s sophomore ep, the beautiful something more holy, is an about-face, a decidedly vocal-centric body of work that finds the producer and singer maximizing each facet of her minimalist palette. morly’s vocals inject energy and tension into the brooding, resting heart rate pulse of “if only chords,” while “by the polo pond” is particularly commanding, its rather bleak thematics delivered atop a synthetic brass section for extra emphasis.
but perhaps the most important voices aren’t the ones carrying the main melody. the ep’s title track is largely constructed around a bevy of vocal manipulations, ones that both support morly’s lyrics and juxtapose their smooth contour with a more angular polyrhythm; “plucky” uses similarly-manipulated textures to flesh out underlying harmonies.
something more holy again leaves much to be desired, but only in terms of quantity, certainly not quality. the ep’s physical release is paired with its predecessor; played in succession, the two outline an expansive, virtually limitless foundation for morly to further construct her sonic architecture. we’ll be waiting – albeit a bit impatiently – to hear what she builds next.
morly’s blend of minimalist, down-tempo electronic music is the perfect recipe for reflection. after dropping off in defense of my muse, one of our favorite eps of 2015, the los angeles-based producer and songwriter will return with something more holy, out april 8th via cascine. her sophomore ep’s opening track, “if only chords,” is yetanother voice-centric composition, resting its laurels on unexpected resolutions and a stuttering beat that gradually converges with a murky low-end. listen to “if only chords” below.
minneapolis native morly dropped off “the choir” last month, a haunting work of minimalist electronica that remains one of the strongest singles of 2016. morly’s follow-up to last year’s excellent in defense of my muse is due out in april via cascine, but in the meantime she’s teamed with gina gammell on a music video for “the choir,” based around moody, affective choreography that fluctuates with the song’s points of tension and release. check out the clip below.
morly’s debut ep, in defense of my muse, was one of our favorites of 2015, and katy morley has already put forth one of the most impressionable songs yet this year. “the choir,” a standalone single for cascine, straddles the space between haunting and ethereal, pairing morly’s affinity for seismic bass tones with a commanding lead vocal that gradually cedes the foreground to distant saxophone bleats and sputtering drum production. listen to “the choir” below.
devon welsh directly dictated the ethos of majical cloudz when he intoned “listen to this song / i want you to know it’s how i feel” to open their 2013 standalone cut “savage.” the track didn’t make it onto the duo’s breakthrough album from that same year, impersonator, but “savage” mirrored the record’s blunt, emotive, and minimalist tendencies so well that it felt like a proper extension.
as majical cloudz has continuously proved to be one of those acts that knowingly transcends the confines of writing music as a band to explore the broader realm of performance art, it stood to reason that welsh and collaborator matthew otto would compose something entirely different in the wake of impersonator. but as are you alone? illustrates, the duo chose instead to explore the parameters and outer limits of their carefully-crafted sonic world, at times challenging perceptions while at others firmly holding up pillars.
welsh was undoubtedly the most enduring facet of impersonator, from his intense lyrical delivery to the wide-ranging contents of those lyrics, and the rich baritone he employed ensured that his vocals would cut through, enriching otto’s sparse, vaporous production. the opposite holds true on are you alone? as the subject matter settles into proclamations of intense feeling and more positive explorations of love and love lost, welsh slips into a higher register, one that’s more ambitious yet at times can truly hinder a song’s development.
we’re forced to reckon with this shift almost immediately. the climax of welsh’s vocal line on “control” swells through the telling phrase “will you let me change? / i want to but / i think you want me the same,” one that speaks immediately to the song’s subject but also serves as an analogue to the new boundaries majical cloudz explores. those changes are sometimes hard to navigate; both the album’s title track and its follow-up “so blue” are vocally unsteady, perhaps purposefully so, but otto’s production compensates time and again. his arrangements are explorative, more orchestral (see the aforementioned “so blue” and opener “disappeared”), and altogether more aware of the space they occupy, working laterally rather than vertically to achieve sonic nuances. it’s also worth mentioning that otto’s overall timbre of choice eventually cedes to welsh’s new vocal register; “silver car crash” and “if you’re lonely” are pillars of the album’s back half and are propped up by warbling organs and nasal synth leads, respectively.
much of are you alone? is not instantly memorable. tracks bleed together, either due to thematics or the consistent organ as otto’s centerpiece, in an almost antithetical fashion to the quotable maudlin hooks sprinkled throughout impersonator. welsh’s lyrical bright spots do persevere, however; it just requires a bit closer attention. the chilly atmosphere of “change” is augmented by profound statements like “the one you are today / is you until you rot” while “if you’re lonely” reads as one giant mea culpa for welsh’s previous feelings of hopelessness before evolving into a self-help testimonial for other lonely listeners, and the overall intensity of crown-jewel “downtown” is enough to make anyone momentarily forget the album’s shortcomings.
from a vocal and melodic standpoint, are you alone? is largely a misstep. welsh’s voice wavers so much at times that it bypasses the crutch of hesitant vulnerability and moves squarely into the realm of flat and out of tune, while there’s also a clear absence of the simple melodic genius and resonance that dotted impersonator. but to simply write off the album as mediocre does a disservice to otto’s production and arrangements, a vast and intricate soundscape which could – and should – be scoring films, and ignores welsh’s penchant for incredibly direct lyrics that can become intensely personal at any given moment. it’s an uneven overall performance, sure, but are you alone? is also an optimistic, challenging, and fascinating snapshot of the relationship between two highly gifted songwriters. save for a blustery fall afternoon.
it’s fitting that we would start again gravitating towards music from the midwest as the dimestore gears up for another cross-country move back to the region. our latest kick is morly, the pseudonym of minnesotan singer-songwriter and gayngs affiliate katy morley. her output often explores a symbiotic relationship between lush choral passages and minimalist electronic soundscapes; morly’s latest single “and sooner than we know it…” is a perfect example. the track boasts a bevy of ascending, ethereal vocal lines that benefit immensely from the busy production that gradually increases from the depths of its texture, moving from a hazy autumnal chill to warmer, more majestic pastures. “and sooner than we know it…” is the centerpiece of morly’s debut ep, in defense of my muse, out august 14th via cascine. take a listen below.
liz harris is set to release ruins, her latest album under the moniker grouper, next friday via kranky records. harris has already shared the commanding single “call across rooms,” and today she’s offered up another. “holding” clocks in at just under eight minutes and again features only harris’ voice and a piano, but the delicacy of the instrumentation is anything but a hinderance to the song’s captivity and the slow-burning, ostinato piano melody is the perfect nightcap to a long, long week. take a listen below.