Considering that these days the once strictly IDM label Warp boasts acts like Grizzly Bear and Maximo Park, I should have known better than to grab a Morr Music band to review just because I loved the label’s Blue Skied an’ Clear compilation. Said compilation dates from the days when every Morr Music band could contribute to a Slowdive tribute without varying the tone too much, and while you can’t resent Thomas Morr for broadening his label’s horizons, I wish I hadn’t found out like this. It’s not as if what I was (wrongly) thinking of as the sound of Morr Music was overly narrow—the great Populous with Short Stories record that came out recently is both markedly different from the label’s ‘classic’ sound and yet not out of place. But there are bigger things to take issue with here than just the fact that Morr is dipping its toes into new waters.
The music itself doesn’t make me sick (although really, the band ought to think before providing straight lines like that album title). It’s perfectly inoffensive, occasionally orchestrated pop along the lines of a million acts before them, although they happen not to use guitars. Songs like the fluidly chiming title track and flourishes like the sunnily parping brass on the opening “Pain Song” are well deployed and charming. But “The Music Makes Me Sick” is a pointlessly catty complaint about repetition and loud noise seemingly directed at every other band out there, and “Pain Song” is complaining that it’s hard to make art when you’re privileged. Normally, I’d at least credit the latter track with sarcasm, but their site says it has “an honest and serious core.” “Lazy” could be another gorgeous, piano-led track, but it revels in its own slack disengagement grossly enough to make you wish Superchunk would show up and blow them off the couch.
Much of the album follows suit, which is a shame because the music is frequently compelling. The music of It’s a Musical isn’t quite as interesting when it opts for buzzy keyboards over the beautifully miked piano that shows up on most of the songs here, but there’s still always enough of interest going on musically that you wish they’d have put as much work into their lyrics as into the production.
Just to confirm my nagging sense of annoyance throughout the album they end The Music Makes Me Sick with the beautifully observed “Take Off Your T-Shirt,” which is both the most dusky, twilight setting they manage and the only song where I find myself rooting for our narrators rather than hoping someone smacks them upside the head. More than most aspects of pop music, lyrics are truly a case where your mileage may vary, but in this case I find myself wishing It’s a Musical would put out a mostly instrumental album.