This Friday, indie rock artist Kevin Morby debuted his newest album, Sundowner. A bare-bones operation beginning with the Kansas native’s unexpected move home a few years ago, the record is defined succinctly by its title. A “sundowner,” according to Morby himself, is someone who “feels increased melancholy during twilight hours.” As the record pushes on, its melancholy seeps through. What begins as a midwestern sunset transforms into colorless isolation and just enough hope to keep people waiting for the light to return at dawn.
The album is structured in accordance with a slowly setting sun, making “Valley” the perfect first track. Morby channels his inner Dylan with a nasally vocal tone, a looped electric guitar riff giving the folk song its rock edge. Morby places people in a car driving slowly on an open, country road as the sun begins her golden descent, intoning: “In the valley below me/ In the valley below/ They all pretend not to know us.” A lengthy guitar bit from guitarist Cyrus Gengras dominates the end of the song, with a harsh drum beat providing a sense of finality to the track’s end.
Morby gets old-western with “Brother, Sister,” which recounts a conversation between siblings. Reverb bounces off each line as the guitar mimics Morby’s vocals and lyrics, his voice low and husky. “The moon like a clock up in the sky/ It goes bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bu, duh, bum, bum, bum,” Morby sings, followed by acoustic fingerpicking that mimics the ticking of a clock and the quickening of a heartbeat.
Sweet and mellow, the title track, “Sundowner,” brings sonic life to Morby’s definition of the word. “I like the sun but I start to run the moment that the sun runs from me,” Morby croons, his vocals stripped-down and bare. The mellotron, with its organ-like tone, adds onto the melancholic feel of the track toward the end, along with airy, flute notes. “Sundowner” isn’t heavy with sadness; the singer has come to terms with his emotional flux.
A tribute to friends lost, “Campfire” is the most dynamic track on the record. Electric riff variations and anchored drums provide the first half of the song with a steady, folk rock rhythm. “Thought that I saw Jessi, she was sitting in a crowd/ then I got to feeling proud/ To ever have known someone so pretty and so sweet/ Who everytime she sang a song it’d sweep me off my feet,” Morby sings sweetly for his late friend a musical icon Jessi Zazu of Those Darlins, who died of Cancer in 2017 at just 28 years old. Midway through the track, Morby is joined by Waxahatchee singer Katie Crutchfield, who sings acapella in her haunting, nostalgic tone. The latter half of “Campfire” is quicker in pace, with a fast chord progression bringing the track to a close while Morby gives a wild, final cry to the sky.
“Wander” is energetic and full of will. Morby grabs a harmonica for the intro, while Gengras plays a quick solo on the electric guitar between each chorus. His voice decorated with the flair of a growl, Morby pushes the song forward as the drums build around his increasing vocal power. The songwriter has a knack for utilizing sound as image; when Morby sings the words “in my chest,” drummer Kyle Rausch strikes the cymbals to imitate a pounding heart.
“Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun” is a slow-fi and sparse tune. Morby’s voice is pleading and full of hopelessness as he whispers a drawn-out “please.” Beginning with a raunchy story detailing a specific memory, “A Night At The Little Los Angeles” is pensive and wordy, comparative to the breathless, storytelling verses of country songwriting. “Jamie” is another, though more miserable, ode to a young friend lost; unexpectation and early death plagues the record in this way, seeping into its darkest details.
The final two tracks on the record are self-aware of their purpose. “Velvet Highway,” an entirely instrumental track, features Morby alone on the mellotron, his and The Beatles’ favorite instrument for evoking sweet melancholia. Eulogic in sonic nature, the track feels final. “Provisions” gets the last word. A steady, repetitive melody that conveys a feeling of fleeing, the final track on a record born out contemplative isolation seems to hint at a new direction. “Grab provisions/ There’s nothing for a hundred miles/ And cast your vision on the dark road/ For a while,” Morby sings, his voice musing with a hue of hope.
As the sun goes down outside the sunflower-draped wooden shack, Morby’s record sets upon itself. And, in the same way they were born, Sundowner’s tracks stick with people’s thoughts as daydreams of sunsets and escape.