ALBUM REVIEW: Kevin Morby “Still Life”


Kevin Morby is nothing if not prolific. He left Woods indefinitely last year — with whom he released a new album every year until his departure — and put The Babies (his band with Cassie Ramone) on hold. Now. he’s focusing on his solo work, and his sophomore record, Still Life, is perhaps one of his most contemplative pieces.

Released October 14th on Woodsist, Still Life opens with the track “The Jester, The Tramp, & The Acrobat.” It is a reeling, Lou-Reed-meets-Leonard-Cohen story, using broad strokes to provide just enough color to each character, but never a direct plot line. It’s an approach continued throughout Still Life, which provides listeners with feelings and reactions – not stories.

This might perhaps be the reason this LP is so thoughtful. The album is named after an art piece by Maynard Monrow entitled “Still Life with the Rejects from the Land of Misfit Toys,” but even truncated as it is, the title is apt: Still Life is low key, low-energy, and highly meditative. Still Life does not dwell, but it lives in a land of misfit toys which leaves a little room for playfulness.

Even with a healthy dose of the stillness – considering and reflecting on hard subjects – there’s still lots of movement; Morby shifts gears before songs feel too stagnant. That’s reflective, in many ways, of his move from New York City to Los Angeles last year. Throughout the album, he moves through themes of finding peace, death, and parades. When Morby handles the subject of death, he is never heavy-handed – instead, he is hopeful, considerate, but realistic. “I’m not dead, but I’m dying,” he says in “Amen,” the 7-minute track that has multiple movements that bleed into each other. “So slow, so slow,” he qualifies.

He sings in the haunting “Bloodsucker,” “I am trying to make peace with who I am,” and he hasn’t completely abandoned his former bands’ aesthetics. While Woods defines itself as a psych-folk band, Morby’s solo work focuses more on the folk aspect of that equation. In this way, Morby’s own influences come to full light: his love of Bob Dylan’s songwriting emerges in the fast paced “Ballad of Arlo Jones” which channels Dylan during his major move to electric in the 60s. “Motors Runnin” is a kindred spirit to The Babies; Cassie Ramone’s repeated lines in “Run Me Over” almost feels echoed in Morby’s track. In spite of the different influences and camaraderie, the tracks all feel right together. Still Life is carefully constructed, and sonically simple, but has just enough complexity in its riffs and hooks to keep the songs in your head after a few listens.

This much is clear: Morby has grown tremendously over the years as a musician and songwriter, and he shows no sign of stopping.

Still Life is out now on Woodsist. He’ll play some shows for CMJ; check out dates and watch his video for “All of My Life” below:

10/24 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade (Aquarium Drunkard CMJ Showcase)
10/25 – Brooklyn, NY – Academy Records *Free*
12/01 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall w/ Angel Olsen
12/04 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre w/ Angel Olsen