PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Morning Spy: The Silver Age

Peter Funk

A fine record with loud echoes of other fine bands and records. If they're not careful someone might accuse them of something untoward.

Morning Spy

The Silver Age

Label: Or Music
US Release Date: 2005-02-01
UK Release Date: Available as import

The problem to be solved before delving into the particulars of the wonderfully semi-lo-fi indie guitar world of Morning Spy's The Silver Age is that we need a working definition of derivative. See, right there, I saw you flinch! That's the problem. We've got hardened associations that are as loaded as shotguns during duck season when it comes to music (or literature or art), and one of them is that aforementioned word which will now not be said. A dictionary definition of the aforementioned word says, at its essence, "copied or adapted from others". That seems pretty innocuous in and of itself, but there's something about the creative process, especially that which will be given up for public consumption, that spurs us, the digesters of that which is given up, to insist on pure originality. Whatever that means. Let's face it, at least half of the motivating desire for originality comes from the critical world. It is the critics amongst us (yours truly included) who demand that everything we hear be either brazenly new, that it cow-tow to the influences that we see as deserving, or be a logical next step in the sound that a "scene" has been incubating. Just about everything else seems to fall under the category of junk. There just doesn't seem to be a well-established middle ground between the accusation of "Creedism" or "Coldplayeity" and the celebration of what's deemed to be hyper-original -- especially in indie-rock circles. My working theory is that a record like The Silver Age goes a long way towards finding that middle ground by simply co-opting some of the sounds that are already successfully floating around in there. And that's a good thing.

Morning Spy is a San Francisco based pop band that has released two albums and two EPs since 2003. Their first proper album -- 2004's Subsequent Light -- was a mélange of dreamy pop music. On The Silver Age, Morning Spy has taken the swirling guitar charm of their last record and updated it with the kind of hook and melody that echoes bands such as Luna and The Silver Jews so well that at times it's hard to tell the difference. But saying that Morning Spy is derivative (crap, I said it) of those bands does them a supreme disservice. Morning Spy is making beautifully intelligent pop music: just because they may be following a muse that was at the very least flat-mates (and more likely secret lovers) with the one that inspired Dean Wareham and David Berman shouldn't be a cause for shame. Luna is dead and gone. The Silver Jews have a record coming out this summer, but after that the expected date of Social Security's bankruptcy may be a good target for the next one. So in the interim why not simply enjoy the sound of a band that makes a really good noise and not question their intentions? Derivative doesn't have to be bad, it can simply mean picking up the metaphoric baton that some other band has dropped and sprinting in the same direction.

The Silver Age opens with "Princess Vancouver", a song that begins by sounding like an outtake from The Silver Jews American Water and then builds towards an outtake from Luna's Bewitched. Singer Jon Rooney's voice has a similar nasal sing-speak intonation to the Jews' David Berman, though lyrically he's not as literary. "Two Horses" sounds like Luna fronted by Berman, with such uncanny ease that Morning Spy may have to answer accusations of identity theft. The gentle strum that starts "In the Silver Age" takes the same tone and pace as "Anesthesia", but with a noisier, less collected guitar that adds a ragged punch you would never find on Lunapark. The harmonizing of Jon Rooney and Allison Goffman on "Ask Us to Dance" rests on a lazily strummed bed of guitar and sounds like the best moments of Wareham and Britta Phillips. I think I may be belaboring a point by bending over backwards too far to draw these comparisons, but there's something truly uncanny about Morning Spy's sound. To me the comparisons I'm citing are so obvious it's like getting hit over the head with a frying pan. You can't not notice them, especially if you're a fan of this particular sound. The only misstep here is the nearly six-minute long nap-inducing "The Slow March to Salt-White Sleep", which sounds exactly like its title would imply.

The Silver Age is an excellent record. The songs are well written and the band is clearly staking its claim to a specific sound. Underrepresented due to atrophy, it may still be someone else's at this stage of the game but that shouldn't be a negative. The Silver Age isn't a result of pillage as much as heavy borrowing. There are far, far worse starting points to call your own than the catalogs that Morning Spy has absorbed.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.