I really wish I could reference the Brontë sisters right now without a trace of irony. It would be nice, perhaps, to speak of “Wuthering Heights” and the sincerity of the text, its characters and love and all that. But it would just be a stupid joke that would inadvertently alienate the earnest readers of the gothic novel among you, and this review is intended for the sincere.
This album is so sincere, in fact, that by the end of the article, I will have exhausted my thesaurus’ synonyms and antonyms of the word “earnest,” because to hell with it.
When I first heard Neal Morgan’s “To The Breathing World” released on Drag City, I thought it was a sort of male equivalent of Joanna Newsom’s sans harp, plus drum breakdowns that keep the erratic beat of the metaphorical heart of the natural world.
Then I Wikied that shit and found out that Morgan was actually the drummer and background singer for Newsom and that this is his first solo album — a fact I probably should have looked up before reviewing the album. But this is just a genuine reaction and review of this warm and heartfelt album.
As I said, Morgan is a lot like the male equivalent of Newsom, with lyrics that, when taken out of context, seem like pretentiously incomprehensible clutter of hipster mumbo jumbo. But, in the grand scheme, they are earnest and poignant lyrics about “a butterfly that carelessly liked singing, paused in midflight, stuck around to stay with the slave whale for a time, in its time of shame and loneliness.”
See? Taken out of context, it sounds like a whole bunch of nothing. But watch him play that song in “The Basement” on YouTube, and you’ll see one hell of a performance.
The whole album is just a boy with his drums and voice. No guitars or bass or anything, just a raw recording of the artist banging away in structured, but in no way standard or simple beats. Think an early acoustic “Animal Collective” type of drum, if it’ll help, with the theatre nerd appeal of Newsom’s lyrics but more personal and less destroyed by a goofy, high-pitched, elfish voice.
Even if you are not a fan of Newsom, the album is still definitely worth a listen just to hear this unique take on what a solo singer/songwriter can be. It’s accessible without being a cookie cutout of the douche with his guitar struggling with basic chord progression. There is some technical drumming here that, if I didn’t know any better, I would think was improvisational.
As a whole, the album is an honest good time that goes beyond simple melody and pleasant or ignorable lyrics. Morgan is a hyper-lyrical musician who understands the nuance of longing and despair and doesn’t just oversimplify human desire to dumbed down relationship dynamics.
By the way, if you have been enjoying this article and/or any of the albums we have told you about, take a listen to KCPR 91.3 FM on your radio dial and we’ll give you some more to listen to. And you can give back in the coming weeks as we get our annual auction underway.
Jack LaPorte is an English graduate and KCPR DJ.