17 May 2020 (released)
04 June 2020
We're not in danger of running out of singer-songwriters anytime soon. The old trope of the pensive and at times misanthropic artist, strumming or fingerpicking away at their best friend, the acoustic guitar. It's a notion that is ever-present, even as we slip farther and farther into the realm of the electronic. At its best it can chisel into our cores, revealing long-hidden truths about ourselves and the world around us. At its worst, it can come off as whiny and self-absorbed, relying solely on “I feel” and “you did” statements to populate their narcissistic ramblings.
To break out of the trappings of the latter, the artist must get outside of themselves. To develop the kind of empathy that profoundly imagines life in someone else's skin, whether it's in an attempt to grasp the intentions of others with which they have relationships or to create living breathing characters as a novelist would in the third person. It's that big picture perception that makes great singer-songwriters so compelling.
With the release of his latest record Same Morning Light, New Mexican songwriter Guy Grogan has sought to tap into that empathy to create a more expansive palette. “...with this one, I really felt like I went deep into the writing and was able to achieve some distance between simply drawing from personal experiences to a broader imagining of someone else's experiences or feelings and writing from their point of view...less autobiographical, but no less intimate.” That intimacy does really shine through. Oddly enough, getting outside of yourself exposes as much about you as speaking autobiographically does.
Grogan has come a long way in the last five years. Writing prolifically will have that effect. With this record, his voice is more present and assured than ever before. He uses it methodically to suit each track jumping from regular rock voice to 50s croon to tender troubadour as it suits him. The title track shuffles the album underway. Grogan hits a Morrissey-like lilt over the western-tinged guitars. His voice is well controlled, full of feeling without tripping over the line into sulky. 'Couldn't Live Without' dials it back to a casual beach vibe in the realm of Mac DeMarco. A happily sauntering bass and sparkle-in-the-water guitars. For 'When It's True', Grogan finds that soft, breathy place that Elliott Smith's most delicate tracks came from.
'Which Only Life' begins rather inauspiciously with a descending, high school dance motif (think 'Earth Angel' at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance). Grogan layers vocals with a low octave backing his sing-song melody. The track steadily gains momentum before erupting in a triumphant guitar solo, like the underdog finally getting the girl. The latter half floats down slowly like a feather, the couple riding high on love. The song makes for a formidable mid-album anchor.
Earnestly-strummed minor chords and a labouriously slow drum beat make 'Low Tide Skeletons' an entrancing late number. The closer 'Not My Hero' concludes the album with long-rung fuzzy guitars and inexorably falling piano. The sparse finale leaves the listener with a thousand-yard stare.
Going back to 2016's Dynamite Bouquet, Grogan hadn't quite found his voice yet. Perhaps straining too hard to convey his emotion. Now, with Same Morning Light, he's found his register with restraint serving as a major asset. Lending tasteful vocals to his mood,y perceptive compositions.