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Doug Paisley - Starter Home Music Album Review

Gracefully navigating the intersection of folk-rock and country, the gentle-voiced songwriter turns detailed images of domestic tranquility and promise into reflections on disappointment.
For a decade, Canadian singer/songwriter Doug Paisley has turned quiet, specific moments into inquiries on life’s larger struggles. On his 2010 breakthrough, Constant Companion, Paisley used the inevitability of endings to explore understanding oneself, the only possible “constant companion.” For 2014’s Strong Feelings, he mulled death and its uneasy relationship with life, or how their juxtaposition ripples into every wave of existence. And now, on his fourth album, Starter Home, Paisley details the chasm that separates what poet Seamus Heaney described as “getting started” and “getting started again.” These songs examine how the person you are never truly aligns with the person you want to be, especially when you stumble upon a sticking point that’s hard to move past.

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MorMor - Heaven’s Only Wishful EP Music Album Reviews

MorMor - Heaven’s Only Wishful EP Music Album Reviews
Toronto musician Seth Nyquist’s versatile voice soars on every track of an inviting debut that spans a surprising array of genres and techniques.

MorMor begins his debut EP with a well-worn lyric: “I’m just a poor boy,” he sings lightly, between clipped guitar chords, immediately recalling one of the most histrionic moments in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While the Toronto musician, born Seth Nyquist, doesn’t aspire to that band’s theatrics or camp, he does share with Freddie Mercury a certain fondness for inhabiting multifaceted characters. Heaven’s Only Wishful contains a surprising array of genres and techniques within its five tracks. Nyquist has a crystalline ear for hooks, but he doesn’t coast on his catchy refrains. He’s also something of a perfectionist; the production on his record is so crisp that vocal ad-libs and slightly delayed notes in guitar solos sound less like mistakes than like deliberate glimpses of the human process behind the craftsmanship on display.

Nyquist’s voice rises to the top of the mix on Heaven’s Only Wishful, soaring over airy synth pads, taut drum patterns, and warm guitar chords. Unlike Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who also constructs indelible choruses within a psych-pop framework, Nyquist positions the human voice as the center of his music, not as a burden to be sublimated into waves of reverb and distortion. His instrumental toolkit might be standard for rock and pop, but his singing tends to roam free above it. On the languid ballad “Whatever Comes to Mind,” he’s all croon and falsetto, completing a dreamy palette with vocal textures siphoned from R&B. Standout track “Waiting on the Warmth” sees him alternately sing-speaking and scuffing up his tenor with the controlled scream of a hard-rock frontman. He’s soft and adorned in reverb on the EP’s title track—until the coda, when he cracks a whisper open into a yelp. A distorted guitar solo spurs him on to that extreme as he repeats, “Some say/You’re the reason I feel this way,” like he’s just realized whom to blame for his pain and is gearing up for a confrontation.

A darkness lurks beneath MorMor’s sunny veneer, occasionally revealing itself by way of disjointed lyrics. “Heaven’s Only Wishful” conjures up an image of vultures circling their victim right after Nyquist muses on “life and its horrors,” concluding, “There’s no getting out.” “Lost” contrasts playful, carefree visions with apocalyptic ones: “Blow kisses to the sky ‘til it comes down.” It’s hard to piece together narratives across Nyquist’s compositions; his lyrics tend toward the dreamy and free-associative, like they’re orbiting the music’s themes instead of pinning them down. That leaves space for the listener to inhabit MorMor’s songs, to fill their vacancies with personalized expectations and predispositions. It makes the music inviting.

“I find color/I hope you find color,” Nyquist repeats in falsetto on the EP’s final track, “Find Colour,” while dizzying guitars and synths swirl around him. It’s the closest thing he offers to an explicit connection between artist and listener, and it closes the record with a reassuring gesture. If you’re coming to his music for comfort, he’s got plenty to offer. If you’re hungry for anger or excitement, he delivers those emotions, too. Heaven’s Only Wishful acknowledges the anguish that saturates its present-day, North American setting, but it doesn’t dwell there. It radiates a tempered optimism. MorMor knows that even the most dejected sentiments can be expressed in an upturned vocal melody, against lush, beautiful instrumentation. Sometimes music is enough of an escape.

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