Posted by: brad – May 04, 2016
Although there’s a good chance you’ve seen local favorite Clair Morgan, New Lions and the Not-Good Night plays as a debut album.
The band’s first album, No Notes, featured primarily Morgan himself.
After playing in bands throughout his adult life, Morgan had grown weary of getting settled inside a dynamic, learning to play with and against a specific group of people to create a unique sound, only to have things disrupted by disagreements or moves. Bands perpetually fluctuate, Morgan explains over the wrap special at Lunch! Supper! in Scott’s Addition, so naming the band this way and thinking of it more like a project allows for changes in the line-up.
New Lions, featuring most of the seven members that currently perform with Clair Morgan, thus evinces a maturation of a sound spawned with No Notes and that has grown through live performance.
And it is that driving, upbeat sound that propels this album forward, absolutely, but that sound would not be as strong nor effective without acknowledging the interplay of voices both as instruments of sound and lyrical content. So crisp, so indie pop is the sound already recognizable from the band that one almost overlooks the depth and complexity of the lyrical content.
Vocal tracks often are embedded down into the instrumentals, playing together to focus on the sound progression, but breaking them apart reveals an exploration of being both a child and a parent, of reliving and reviewing one’s childhood by navigating fatherhood. At the core of this album is Morgan’s exploration of fatherhood, of being a child turned parent, of the “obsessive” weight, fear, and responsibility of caring for another life. That tension colors every aspect of the album from the cover art, inspired by his sons, to the song progression.
From the beginning of the album with the “Intro” track, which was primarily composed by Morgan’s oldest son, we are led directly into “Bryn Mawr,” a fantasy around the idea of isolating one’s family to ensure a safe, protected existence. The choral voices, with Emily Skidmore and Ashley Moore softly joining Morgan throughout, support the sense of family that permeates the album. Here, as in many places throughout the album, the backing vocals set the tone of the song, moving us toward the gently rising crescendo that pulls the listener down into the album. Though upbeat, this album feels set apart; an island of thought, a dream of maybes, with “Intro” and “Bryn Mawr” working together to open the gates.
Throughout the album, the band falls down into the sound, playing with the themes of the song - unrestrained, but never messy. In “Rogue Island,” the album’s first single and debatably the most discernable song in terms of sound, driving drums backed with an extra snare from Adam Tsai combine with a signature fast and loose riff from Morgan to create a sound undeniably catchy.
After the first chorus, as Morgan leans heavy into a gnarly riff punctuated by that insistent bass, what can one do but nod along, as carried away as the band?
Perhaps the best breakaway into sound happens in “How to Set Your Bed on Fire,” when the pacing shifts and Morgan lets his guitar take over for his voice for just a moment.
Peppered throughout the album are delicious little bits like this, like Tsai’s sweet vibes in “Ready Set Falcon” or the way all three voices soar out in “Amelia Graveheart,” which speak to each member’s deliberate participation in the music. Everyone, explains Morgan, is willing to play just what’s needed for the song, not for his or her ego; that’s how this seven-piece comes away with such tight construction.
Though this is a heavily thematic album, beyond any one theme an awareness of the fluidity of perspective runs through this album.
Always a child, a father, a confident lead, a man at the forefront in “Outro,” Morgan’s exploration of sound and self stands honest and open. Instead of falling into a self-sacrificing pit of indie pop, through upbeat tempos, lilting guitar riffs, and peppy backing vibes the band never allows the listener to forget how much they just love the sound, how much fun it is to play this music, even on tracks heavy with the weight of family. Still, though, for all that we are encouraged to raise our fists with Morgan, to sing along with eyes closed, in the end we necessarily fall back as Morgan orchestrates his own wandering through “the paralyzing fear” of being a parent.
That said, if Morgan’s desire to provide a safe space for his family, tempered with the knowledge of the impossibility of achieving that task, underwrites this album, then inside the album itself, for just a moment, this desire feels achievable.
You can hear a full stream of the album via Pure Volume here!
New Lions and the Not-Good Night drops this Friday on Egghunt Records.
Review by By Laura Confer