Minnesota has a proud and rich musical history, if somewhat strange. It almost completely missed the blues revolution that took place in the central midwest throughout the 40s and 50s (it’s biggest contribution – musically – to WW2 was The Andrews Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”; never heard of it? Neither have I). This is down to geography, the blues music was largely inspired and performed by African-American musicians (Bob Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, etc.), this meant that furthest North that it got was Chicago (the ‘Sweet Home’ Johnson liked to go on about); Minnesota, however, was largely comprised of Scandinavians and Germans, as such the music was similar but very different, it so follows that Minnesota was destined to contribute to music in a very different way. It’s most famous music denizen is, unarguably, Bob Dylan (a son of Duluth), however it can also claim artists like Prince, Hüsker Dü, The Trashmen, etc. Morly is another incarnation of a musical tradition that goes back to the 60s.
Kate “Morly” Morley, like Andrei Eremin, is primarily a producer, and ‘In Defence of my Muse” is her first effort on the other side of the mixing desk, as it were. It is a well thought out release, beautifully constructed, the vocals are not quite there most of the time, but the only time they are really heard (on “And Sooner Than We Know It…”) they are used fantastically well. The piano shifts seamlessly from emotional centrepiece to background instrument when the cooing starts. In fact it all seems to emotionally a scene in which Morly has lost something precious but can’t quite remember what it was, the minimalistic cover art corroborates this interpretation. It sounds like an American interpretation of a Sigur Rós album (if you don’t know them, give Ágætis Byrjun a listen and far from being a collection of accents is one of the most sonically perfect albums there is) – sounding like a post-millennium Sigur Rós is no small praise.
Having said that though, there are some issues. Morly’s airy vocals really start to get on your nerves after a song or two (although this is part of the atmosphere, so maybe it’s mitigated) but for such a strong lyricist it seems like a waste to have them spent on nothing. The piano, whilst impressively used, should be more foregrounded on the album, like the lyrics, it’s wasted contributing to beats. The biggest issue for me though is that it is too short (clocking in at just 13 minutes!), how can you create an atmosphere if you’ve only got thirteen minutes?! I accept that there maybe good reasons as to why it is so short (I’d rather an EP was too-short and well controlled, than a too-long meandering mess), but it seems that such brilliant and beautiful music is being ripped away from us.
Ultimately though, this is a very good release. It’s length is major drawback from what otherwise is an accomplished debut, fortunately what is there more than makes up for what isn’t.