Friday, January 20, 2012

Neal Morgan Releases In The Yard: A Review

I love melodic pop music. I also love out there stuff, stuff that takes risks.

Luckily for me, Neal Morgan has covered both bases by releasing the drum-and-sample-based In The Yard.

The Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan collaborator has produced this unique record that veers between moments of quiet introspection ("Kicking The Ball") and clanging-and-clattering workouts ("Thinking Big").

In The Yard is a tough record to describe; roughly similar to Todd Rundgren's A Cappella (1985), the record is entirely Neal's. He played the drums, sang, and did all the vocal bits that you hear sampled and looped in the background.

But where Rundgren was interested in studio trickery, Neal is interested in something else.

It's an odd, but lovely, mix here of bold, audacious, and loud moves. Drums and cymbals crash and clatter while Neal practically croons the vocals.

In what could have easily been a record-length drum off, the sort of thing that only Neal Peart could enjoy, In The Yard is, instead, a rather melodic record.

Neal uses the drum riffs and patterns to find the melodies and then his vocals, or lyrical improvisations, come in over the track.

Neal's vocals here remind me of Paul Simon's, for some reason. And, sometimes there's this nice feeling that you're hearing some new genre of rock music as those lovely vocal moments float in over a racket of drums-and-cymbals. On the title cut, there's even a sense of peace as the backing vocal samples chirp and Neal sings/speaks the lyrics, the drums sort of punctuating the ideas in the lyrics.

It's an interesting combination of forces at work on In The Yard. Fans of US indie rock will find the vocals warm and inviting, while musicians will dig the drumming which covers a gamut of styles beyond rock-'n'-roll.

What remains here is a record that has no peer. In The Yard will most likely turn out to be one of the boldest releases of 2012 and I can only imagine the thrill of seeing Neal Morgan perform these tracks live.

There's a new genre somewhere in here, something futuristic but not keyboard-heavy, something that relies on a very human use of samples.

Loud-and-pretty. Maybe that should be the name of that new genre that Neal Morgan is creating on In The Yard?

Accessible and wildly inventive, this is a thoroughly bold and interesting record.

I think my difficulties in writing about it should illustrate how different this release is.

Get it now on Drag City.

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