By

An illuminating show from James Vincent McMorrow and Aidan Knight at Union Transfer

James Vincent McMorrow | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com
James Vincent McMorrow | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com

As both performers remarked, their previous visits to Philadelphia had been met with little but empty rooms and lackadaisical barkeeps. But to the obvious excitement of both Aidan Knight and headliner James Vincent McMorrow, Union Transfer was filled with humans in eager and rapt attention to the full and rounded waves of synth sound and bittersweet voices they offered up.

Aidan Knight and his band played through a quick set that cruised to the chamber pop vibe. Knight stepped away from the mic and toward the audience for a final plaintive solo guitar piece called “Margaret,” which proved that he could pluck heartstrings with the same delicacy as those of any guitar.

James Vincent McMorrow performed among a field of illuminated pyramids, swathed in light that alternated between warm and cool as the music from his group of skilled multi-instrumentalists did the same. They’d made it to the stage in spite of myriad difficulties (think strep throat, losing a drummer, and taking a U-Haul across the Rockies) but in their performances not a single struggle could be perceived. In melodies ridden by McMorrow’s deft falsetto and driven by a beat at once ethereal and grounded, the music of the evening reverberated among those assembled to leave us all a little fuller than we’d come.

By

Just Announced: James Vincent McMorrow playing Union Transfer on 4/5

James Vincent McMorrow | photo by Emma J Doyle
James Vincent McMorrow | photo by Emma J Doyle

Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow has released his sophomore record Post Tropical and has announced a supporting U.S. tour for the spring.  McMorrow gained worldwide affection for the raspy, painfully heartfelt folk pop songs on his 2010 debut Early in the Morning and its single “If I Had a Boat.”  From lead single “Cavalier,” though, it seems like McMorrow has found new means to his singer-songwriter ends on Tropical, trading in the woodsy organic-ness of Morning for polished R&B / soul vibes heavy on the falsetto.  Moving from the worlds of Keaton Henson and early Bon Iver to Rhye or even James Blake marks a significant shift in genres, but it’s a refreshing show of musical agility that comes off well on “Cavalier.”  Tickets and information for McMorrow’s April 5th show at Union Transfer can be found here.  Watch the video for “Cavalier” below.

By

Tonight’s Concert Picks: Active Child at First Unitarian Church, James Vincent McMorrow at Johnny Brenda’s

For an album that’s supposedly all about intimate engagement with its audience, Active Child‘s You Are All I See sure likes to keep listeners at a distance. Pat Grossi has said the band’s debut full-length is “an attempt to build a bridge between the listener and I, in that, I wrote these songs for you as much as I did for me. And right now when you are listening to my voice, by yourself, it really is just you and I.” Yet—outside of Grossi’s shimmering harp lines and choir-boy falsetto—You Are All I See is primarily defined by the empty space between the occasional synth line, minimal drum-machine beats, and layered vocals. From a songwriting perspective, that is territory most bands would try to fill with as many blips and bloops and other electronic flourishes as possible, until it was overflowing with ideas; it’s to Grossi’s credit—and the album’s benefit—that he’s able to rein in such impulses. But make no mistake: This is a cold, cold record, even if that’s not Grossi’s intention. Despite how much Active Child wants to keep you close, You Are All I See proves that it’s in the band’s nature to push you away. (The London-based electro/synth-pop outfit Young Athletes League—which is making its US debut on this tour—opens.) Active Child performs with Young Athletes League at 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Church’s Side Chapel; tickets to the all-ages show are $10–$12.

Are indie-folk junkies finally over musicians who hole up in an isolated cabin to write their masterpiece of an album? If the answer is a resounding “YES,” well, James Vincent McMorrow wants you to forget the process and focus on the finished product. Truth be told, the Irish singer-songwriter’s debut full-length, 2010’s Early In The Morning, was written during a period of self-imposed seclusion. (To be fair, it was in a beach house, not a log cabin in the middle of the woods.) Thankfully, McMorrow’s songs—which consist of lingering harmonies over restrained instrumentals—speak for themselves, regardless of how they came together. The arrangements often make it difficult to hear the lyrics at first; once identified, however, they’re clearly the crux of each song, telling environmental and humanistic tales. Sure, the line “Sea is not my friend / seasons they conspire / still I choose to swim” probably could have been conceived someplace other than a shack near the sea. But who knows? Maybe McMorrow really was in mid-backstroke when he came up with it. James Vincent McMorrow performs with Christopher Paul Steling at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are $12. —Caitlyn Grabenstein