Written in constant transition – and recorded between Toronto, Dublin and London – ‘We Move’ is James Vincent McMorrow’s most expansive, generous and ambitious record to date. There is, on the other hand, something more stripped-back – vulnerable, even – surfacing for the first time: far from the dense, protective imagery at the heart of ‘Post Tropical’, ‘We Move’ is ultimately a record open in its portrait of anxiety and social unease. For McMorrow, it’s about celebrating mental fragility – and how we move forward in life – rather than “people listening to my songs and believing that I’m out in the forest all day long, thinking about trees. Because I’m actually at home, trying to convince myself to go out and get milk.”
The first steps to ‘We Move’ took place in 2014, when James – having been asked to write for different artists’ projects – started sketching out ideas for others on tour (and subsequently stopped over-analysing his own work). Intent on doing the opposite of everything he’d done thus far, McMorrow then came off the road, but kept exploring: first through Barcelona, then Canada, and stopping in Los Angeles for six particularly fish-out-of-water months, where the songs for the album crystallised. He returned to Dublin determined not to just produce another album himself, but to work with people who could articulate the unique world he heard in his head (“I grew up wanting to write songs like Neil Young but produce them like The Neptunes”). And so James reached out to a few key co-producers he’d met whilst travelling, who formed the backbone of ‘We Move’: namely, Nineteen85 (Drake, DVSN), Two Inch Punch (Sam Smith, Years & Years), and Frank Dukes (Kanye West, Rihanna). Mixing took place largely in Miami with one of McMorrow’s all-time heroes, Jimmy Douglass - known for his work from Donny Hathaway through to Timbaland – who finessed the record’s warm, vintage yet forward-thinking feel.
The result is an album about movement – geographically, mentally, emotionally – which remains focused on finding your place in that future. First track ‘Rising Water’ is starkly-produced and skyscraper-sized in its sense of catharsis (“I never once was sad for what I’ve done”): ‘Evil’, meanwhile, questions whether you might in fact be a bad person, because you don’t see life the way other people do (its tone is celebratory rather than ominous, however). Heavier still is ‘I Lie Awake Every Night’, which sees James address for the first time the eating disorder he has battled since he was a child (“it’s about lying in hospital when I was a kid, thinking I shouldn’t be there, and trying to reconcile those two things”). ‘We Move’ reacts against McMorrow’s instincts to obscure ideas such as this, and ultimately embraces a shared, collective awkwardness, and the idea that maybe we’re all putting on a brave face in some way.
Beginning with Rising Water, ‘We Move’ continues a remarkable journey for the Dublin-born singer and songwriter, whose early work offered little clue as to the sounds and situations that would follow. It’s a remarkably assured collection, informed by this idea that you might not have to listen to others when they tell you how they think life is supposed to go; and that as you grow up, you lose things along the way. Rather, ‘We Move’ suggests it’s possible to keep what you want to keep, and lose what you want to lose.