The concept of duality gives an entity equal yet opposite qualities, juxtaposed in nature. Above all, Kevin Morby’s latest release City Music celebrates the duality of the love of a city, the joy and sorrow that comes from a person’s relationship to their surroundings. Though the 12-tracked album appears on the surface as a love-letter to the pulse of a metropolis, Morby constantly wrestles with the conflicts that come from all the hustle and bustle, citing crowded streets, a pull to escape the city, his self-conscious tendencies, and more.
The album begins on a darker note, as he speaks of the absence of family and life in “Come To Me Now,” as well his doomed-nature, with all the “good luck gone” in “1234.” These themes set up by the exposition of the record are carried throughout, as Morby, through his simplistic yet profound lyrics, seems to wrestle with the idea of absence and wanting.
Just as a city carries elements of duality, a motif Morby constantly returns to is crying, an emotional release for happiness or pain. On “Crybaby,” Morby describes his “tears [flowing]” as he grapples with images of himself and who he aspires to be. But later on, Morby consoles a friend on “Dry Your Eyes,” as the repetitive phrasing of the song’s title serves to evoke the need for joy, almost as if he is convincing himself to be happy.
The album is interrupted in part by “Flannery,” a Flannery O’Connor passage read by musician Meg Baird, which juxtaposes fire, seen as a dangerous warning, with the lights of a city, as if to suggest the two symbols are not so different. Directly following is the album’s title track, an almost seven-minute jam riffing off of the lure of the sound that encapsulates a city. The instrumentation itself, which defines the first few minutes of the song, seems to be Morby’s reflection on his environment, as the idea of a “jam” seems to symbolize and give importance to community and camaraderie.
Though the album carries many tracks of Morby’s unique electric guitar playing, a more quiet, acoustic moment comes with the lullaby of “Night Time,” as he seems to be almost accepting his emotions, passively watching the “heat rise… into [his] life.” The change of instrumentation seems to reflect a switch in emotional insight: Morby, for the first time on this record, seems to have a better sense of self, as writing seems to be the catharsis that leads to understanding, the beauty behind his poetic lyrics.
City Music carries the structure of an inverted mirror image, much like the record’s cover, as the album closes with the words “mother, sister, comfort me,” a direct opposition to Morby’s lack of family in the first track, “Come To Me Now.” Just as art mimics life, the record closes on themes of death, questioning the elements of “judgment day” on “Pearly Gates” and finishes with the haunting words of “You know I’ve gone to live one thousand lives, and to die one thousand deaths.”
The strongest duality of it all is the record’s cover, as we see Morby differently than he sees himself in that mirror he’s glancing into. City Music is a love-letter turned lyrical reflection, as Morby exhibits his love by exploring his deepest emotions, and in the end, accepting that life moves like the “tide flying,” as beautiful and complex as the city lights.