Music Reviews
Oh My God

Kevin Morby Oh My God

(Dead Oceans) Rating - 7/10

While I listened to Oh My God, I kept imagining what Dan Bejar or Bill Callahan or Lucy Dacus would do with the beautiful scope of music on offer. Those songwriters' lyrics would take Kevin Morby's work into a blissfully poetic territory, letting the music and words play off each other in an exquisite feedback loop. But my thought experiment was painful, because Kevin Morby sang —in his palatal Bob Dylan affected voice— lyrics of his own devising. And while his music has reached new heights of production and depth, his penmanship remains pedestrian.

My complaint wouldn't matter as much if the lyrics were buried in the sonics, but producer Sam Cohen has placed Morby's voice front and center. Besides that decision, Cohen's work here is fantastic—he sculpts an environment at times flitting and ethereal, occasionally raucous like a barroom stomp, and consistently circling back to sounds both sublime and spiritual. This last aspect, the spiritual, should have been an apt accompaniment to these songs, where Morby explores notions put forth by the record's title as a concept album.

On an album launch press release, there's a quote by Morby which delves further into this thought: “‘Oh my god’ is such a profound statement we all use multiple times a day and means so many different things.” Deep, dude. In that titular phrase Morby has discovered a double entendre, and with that in mind, takes us on a trip through a song cycle that tries to play off the sacred/profane duality of that and other spiritual phrases such as “Oh My Lord” and even “Hail Mary,” which he reminds us can reference a quarterback's efforts. The album's opener, a lush, gospel-infused daydream, is a promising start, though it could be accused of appropriating Southern Spiritual music ("Gotten too weak for this heavy load... carry a glad song wherever I go, singin' oh my Lord, oh my God"). During the first song, I gave the lyrics the benefit of the doubt, figuring Morby was going for a minimalist approach to achieve a simple, spiritual authenticity. But the rest of the album—and Morby's oeuvre— suggests otherwise—he's incapable or doesn't care about writing verses with concrete, evocative imagery. Compounding this is the emotional distance of his voice, which compels the listener to supply their own meaning, but to do so with such shallow lyrics proves frustrating.

I shouldn't be so cynical. The music is stunning throughout—plaintive, ethereal, at times like a slow drift downriver with lush foliage on both banks. We're taken on thoughtful organ-propelled sojourns and rocking sky-bound numbers with electric guitar intrusions that bring to mind Marc Bolan or Jeff Tweedy circa A Ghost is Born. Not to be missed are Cochemea Gastelum's saxophone solos, which contribute a rich dimension of soulfulness to the album.

Oh My God will go down smooth with millennial dads looking for a lozenge of soft rock to replace The National. Oh man, I'm getting cynical again, but you would too if you tried giving these lyrics a chance.