City life has gotten a bit of a bad rap in pop culture lately. In movies, there’s arisen a kind of fetishism for seeing the world’s biggest cities and monuments destroyed by a supervillain, natural disaster, or some other plot device. A lot of people theorize that this trend is representative of cultural anxieties about the collapse of western civilization, the environment, or capitalism.
Kevin Morby’s City Music is the antithesis of urban dystopia. It is an album that is equally as nostalgic for the past as it is hopeful for the future. And for Kevin Morby, the past and the future are at their best when spent in the unique mix of people and experiences that can only come from city life.
Morby’s solo projects tend to lean harder into his folk sensibilities compared to his work as frontman of The Babies. However, I think you would be hard pressed to find another artist who can make folk so accessible without watering down the emotional weight songs in the genre usually carry. Songs like “Crybaby” deal with the harsher parts of city life with incredible tact. “I never was someone you’d want to meet,” says Morby as he describes feeling isolated from the rest of the city by his own anxieties.
Almost every song goes to some dark place thematically without dampening the Morby’s optimistic instrumentation Each song feels intimate and relatable, but it is hard to call any of them downers.
There is a shift in the album about half through (punctuated by a passage from a Flannery O’Connor story) that serves to pave the way for the title track. “City Music” is the tentpole for the rest of the album. Both the rhythm and melodies of the song are upbeat and call to mind driving downtown on the weekend for a night full of possibilities. The song creates the context through which the entire album should experienced.
Kevin Morby is not the first person to sing the praises of the cities he has called home, but the amount of personal sentiment coming out of every song on City Music makes his story one worth listening to.