North by Morgan Barrie is an equally folky and noisy experiment and makes for a sort of bold debut. Barrie’s voice acts as a sonic constant throughout the record which has the advantage of giving the listener the comfort of familiarity as the songs mesh contradictory styles. His raspy voice, however, doesn’t always sit well on some of the prettier and more melodic tracks.
During the track “Dream” his voice sounds strained and distracts from the gorgeous string arrangements playing in the background. The same goes for the piano and acoustic guitar parts on the opening track, “The Space Between The Trees,” but here the vocals are augmented with reverb which adds to the song’s melancholic and eerie ambience. This problem magically disappears on the adorable and romantic “I Believe In You,” and I wish his vocal performances on the album’s softer tracks were as strong as this one.
The record takes a more rough and loud tone with songs like “I Don’t Owe You Anything” and they showcase my favourite sides of Barrie’s sound. The song is fast-paced and features a few guitar parts that contrast each other wonderfully. I’m also a huge fan of the urgency that’s created by the loud bell that rings throughout the track.
Noisy electric leads are all over this record and in a small way remind me of My Bloody Valentine. North never quite reaches their degree of dissonance but the result is similar. There’s something beautiful infused into the ugliness and it makes the record shine like a scratched diamond. The record closes with the ballad “Oblivious” and its slow build is stunning. Barrie’s deep voice is contrasted with a high-pitched whine that sounds like a dissonant organ and matches his panicked and sad repetition of the question, “What’s happened to us?” The album’s characteristic acoustic guitar finds its way on to this song, as well as some soft, feminine voices that bring the song and the record, to its sudden conclusion. This ending is jarring and unsatisfying until you realize this sudden fade is how the opening track, “Of The Space Between The Trees” ends, thus turning the record into something of a circle.
There’s a clear admiration for the softer sides of folk and pop music on North, but Barrie is determined to make some noise, or at the very least, not get caught up in the trappings of melody in beauty. In this regard I think North will be a hit with fans of Conor Oberst and other loud, angsty folk acts. In the future, I hope Barrie embraces his dissonant influences a little more as I’m sure they could take on a more central role in his sound without sacrificing the catchiness that seems to be so naturally imbued into his songwriting.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy