In the fifth album by Kansas City native Kevin Morby, Oh My God represents a spectacular everyday epic. Secular and personally spiritual all at once, this record is firmly rooted in the mannerisms and culture of the Midwest. Yet this album is hardly grandiose in subject matter; instead, Morby reflects on the triumphs, heartbreaks, and memories that make up the everyday lives that we increasingly seem to take for granted. ‘OMG Rock and Roll’ is such an example: a brash, distorted punch at the world that quickly gets broken down into an ethereal refrain that Morby intended to mirror the dynamics of a life cut short by an act of violence.
To that end, much of the album’s subject matter (by Morby’s own admission) was spurred by national tragedies and current events, including the 2016 election and recent mass shootings. Instead of feeling reactive, though, Oh My God sounds more like a measured, mature reflection by someone who is on the other side of youth. While the fiery desire for change and progress in society is still present in much of Morby’s music, a quiet surrender to fate and humanity’s ugly tendency to repeat evil is threaded throughout the record. Instead of feeling resigned and heavy, however, this revelation is ultimately meant to be a source of freedom. On ‘Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild,’ Morby remarks “everything we do is a mess/but oh, honey, may this mess be blessed” as such an example, asking the listener to take the depressing realities of life in stride and simply move on with hope, love, and celebration while we still have the chance.
Production-wise, this album represents a bold new step for an artist already known for sprawling, carefully layered songs. Morby retained Sam Cohen as the lead producer of the album after working with him on his last record, ‘City Music’ and their co-evolution shows. Departing from his usual guitar-focused sound, Morby incorporates a wide array of drum sounds, flutes, the excellent saxophone work of Cochemea Gastelum (Dap Kings), and intricate, beautiful piano work. Morby’s influences are abound; from Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou’s piano ballads to Bob Dylan and The Band, Oh My God is a musical love letter to a world of music that has obviously helped the artist weather life’s ups and downs. In turn, Morby clearly marks his own place as a successor to the titans of folk music of decades past.
As a songwriter, Oh My God illustrates an artist at the top of his craft. Morby’s work is intentional enough to direct the imagination of his audience to stories of his childhood, family, and friends, yet open-ended enough to allow listeners to fill in the blanks with their own lives. Now based out of Kansas City, lines like “and when there’s nothing better, we talk about the weather outside” from ‘Savannah’ positions him as an honest ambassador to the Midwest through much of the album.
Oh My God is a breathtaking step forward for an artist who has already been steadily on the rise in indie music. This album has all of the weight, relevance, and timelessness of a record that could very well go on to be one of the best of the decade in the genre. With deep, personal reflections on the joys and tragedies of living in a world increasingly estranged from its humanity, Oh My God shows us all that life is a messy, valuable thing still worthy of every day celebration.
Recommended If You Like: Fleet Foxes, Hand Habits, Big Thief, Bedouine, Cass McCombs
Recommended Tracks: Seven Devils, Oh My God, Piss River, Hail Mary, O Behold
Do Not Play: OMG Rock and Roll, Hail Mary
Written by Alex Murray on 04/26/2019