George Morris is a strange bird in the indie music realm. An inheritor of the ‘70s glam rock legacy, the Detroit troubadour brings that glitzy subgenre’s tropes to the modern era. Without an ounce of kitsch, he fuses the hallmarks of Bowie-Bolan aural decadence with the subtleties of indie rock and the danceable innovation of synth pop. Throw in a dash of classic singer-songwriter proclivities and his latest release, We Will Go to Hell for This, stands as his finest distillation of these disparate — at times contradictory — influences.
As with 2013 debut LP Organ Solos, this sophomore release finds the former Satin Peaches frontman playing every instrument himself. Despite this, the record is remarkably fuller-sounding than its predecessor, grander and more expansive. With the arena-ready extravagance of tracks like “Explode” and “Fade Away”, one might be inclined to think Morris’s Gypsy Chorus, with whom he performs live, had been involved in the recording to flesh out the numbers (expect that on Morris’ next full-length).
Already something of a signature song for Morris as it previously was on his Black & White EP, “Fuck It” kicks off the record as if it were opening the door to a glimmering pocket universe. Starting with a wheezy organ seesawing between frenetic digital beats, it unfurls like fog creeping over a pastoral landscape at dawn. When a more aggressive drum loop and Morris’s layered vocals come in, it adds a yearning anticipation for something you can’t pinpoint, a tension within you in need of release. That desire receives a marvelous payoff in the chorus: “Give me a reason / Wait, fuck it / I can see it the night sky”, Morris sings, supported by a gospel-esque choir. Hear it once, and the earworm has nestled in for good.
From there, the album takes a series of drastic turns, the tunes at once unified into a cohesive work and showcasing a range of styles that blend rather than clash as you might assume they would on paper. “Fade Away” opens with ominous piano and a sinuous bass line weaving its way up from beneath. When the percussion joins, a hip-shaking groove infects with an air of nocturnal sexiness. With the lyrical theme of reveling in — rather than bemoaning — impermanence, the music deftly captures the mood of indulging in every fleeting moment. As the beat comes to an abrupt halt, it transitions to the beer-bottle clanking and general morning-after malaise of “Girls on Parade”. Down-tempo and with a boozy forlornness, it glides about until the refrain hits, a punchy, percussive sing-along tailor-made to get stuck in your head. With the second verse, digitized effects that twinkled in the background rise to the fore as the instrumentation swells. Like “Fuck It”, it also hails from the previous EP, though both tracks are slightly remixed here.
The album’s strongest number arrives at its center, the aptly titled “Explode”. Beginning with foreboding, minor piano chords and gloopy beats, it builds cinematically with a rising tension. “My head might explode, yeah,” Morris sings, his delivery conveying the strain of mental frustration about to manifest in a psychological break. When the refrain first appears, a mantra of “Why won’t you shut the hell up? / The hell up / The hell up,” Morris sounds wounded but contained. Immediately after, a whirlwind of scattershot beats comes in, ratcheting up the pressure into a full-on storm. Interestingly, the song takes a significant departure right when it is as its most unhinged, suddenly shifting in tone and melody to some repetitive keyboard hammering and Morris’ vocals taking on a breathy quality. Yet this is only a respite, as the previous template soars back in, with the addition of a ravaged guitar solo.
Side two begins with the ballad “Habitat”, a shimmering number built around an infectious keyboard pounding. The most Beatles-esque song of the bunch, its melody sways with Morris’s romantic declarations, more gospel-style backing vocals, and a thumping bass. “All I want to do / Is be with you,” Morris proclaims, sci-fi bleeps and bloops going on behind him. It channels that sweetness of staying in bed on a Sunday afternoon with the object of your affection, the lust and the contentedness comingling against a spacey backdrop. In a nice juxtaposition, next track “I Won’t Call You Again” has that sense of break-up finality to it, a vaguely Latin drum pattern and more of those evocative backing vocals imparting a compelling depth. On its heels is “Race”, the most experimental song, a meditative piece composed of unrelenting percussion, Morris’s obscured vocals, and a heavy amount of digital effects that push it into the dream pop sphere.
The record’s last true rocker, “Stardust”, is the most glammed-out, as if the title didn’t give that away. Shuffling drums and sparse key notes in the verses temper matters until an incendiary chorus breaks forth. A scorching guitar thrusts it forward as Morris howls, “All we are / Is stardust”, the tune moving like a shuttle propelled through the cosmos. Come the ending, the energy is driven to such a zenith that you’re almost left winded. It’s suitable, then, that the record wraps on the hazy, comedown of “Eliza”. An austere closer, the synthesizers and organs form a warm blanket around Morris’s voice, sounding as though it’s emanating from a starry firmament. There is an elegant sadness to it that stands in contrast with the rest of the album, but in a way, it’s fitting. It closes the portal to this resplendent universe opened by “Fuck It”, and how can that not be met with a degree of melancholia?