T E Morris – Newfoundland (And Of That Second Kingdom Will I Sing)

7 Production
8 Composition
9 Mood
8 Instrumentation

I don’t know what it is about 2016 that makes it simultaneously such an amazing year for music, and such a mournful one in general. T E Morris’ most recent record mirrors this dual nature perfectly: it is exquisitely beautiful, but it is also announced as his “final” solo work. There’s definitely an elegiac shroud around this music, which isn’t necessarily something new, as T E Morris’ previous solo releases have all been submerged in deep melancholy. However, for several reasons I will try to point out (least of which is the “final” announcement), “Newfoundland (And Of That Second Kingdom Will I Sing)” achieves the bittersweet honor of feeling like a crowning achievement.

RELEASE DATE: 24 June 2016  LABEL: Robot Needs Home

Declaring this record as a farewell to solo releases might come from a place of disappointment for Morris, but I certainly hope there’s more to it than that. The story goes like this: 2015 was supposed to be a bountiful year for Morris, as he intended to release a trilogy of albums, beginning with “LOST”. Shortly after that initial release, most of his gear was stolen, including a hard drive where he had the advanced sketches for the other two albums. Sorrow and stoicism must have met in Morris’ heart, as he proceeded to re-record and rethink his material, fusing it into one single album – hence the double title – with a delay of only one year. The fragile, resplendent music captured on this record certainly seems to confirm my suspicion that the decision to end his solo output comes after having reached an artistic summit, rather than as a consequence of personal disappointment and exhaustion at the loss suffered in 2015.

It is difficult to speak at length about the music on “Newfoundland” while also resisting the urge to wax poetic to uncanny and unwelcome lengths. It is a very lyrical, overwhelmingly emotional album, and I cannot help but feel that dissecting it with a cold, critical gaze would do it a grave disservice. But then, gushing isn’t very convincing either. I’m left with highlighting some of its most enchanting features, and with these pieces of advice:

  1. Definitely listen to “Newfoundland (And Of That Second Kingdom I Will Sing)”. Your mood going in matters very little – the album is crafted in such a way as to draw your focus instantly, just as a spectacular sunset would. It can clear your mind and center you in the knowledge that all things whither and pass, and that entropy is beautiful.
  2. Listen to this album alone first. Religious experiences have far more spiritual weight in a one-on-one setting. The social aspect comes after, and even then it is best consumed in a cocoon of respectful silence.

Beyond this attuning advice, I can say that I was absolutely shocked at the effectiveness of T E Morris’ voice on this record. His work in “Her Name is Calla” and his “LOST” album had prepared the field somewhat, but “Newfoundland” goes above and beyond all set expectations for emotive vocals. For me at least, Morris carries this record on the vibrations of his vocal chords first and foremost, not on the composition or the layering of instruments.

The instrumental layers are welcome, tasteful and complex elements in the gorgeous mix, but for the most part they are unsurprising (with the notable exception of “A Year In The Wilderness”, where the sudden employment of a church organ is apt to send shivers down your spine). Don’t get me wrong, the music is beautifully paced and textured, but the overarching point is simplicity, and nothing on the record hits that point harder and with more honesty than the singing voice.

Unfortunately, there’s an aspect of this search to convey ultimate honesty and raw emotion which sometimes ends up being redundant. The lo-fi production, especially apparent on some of the songs, acts more like a sign yelling “Look, here I am, forlorn and devastated, won’t you notice how raw this is?” – a sign which the music really doesn’t need. It does a great job of getting that message across through composition and pacing – underlining this quality so many different ways is a bit much. Fortunately, this jarring effect only happens a few times throughout the album’s 11 and songs (and one hidden track), and it’s not nearly enough to mar the whole record.

That’s all, folks. Too many words can ruin the transparent beauty of this record. I’m done talking. When in doubt, see piece of advice no. 1, above.

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