Going For A Song : ‘Harlem River’

Kevin Morby – Harlem River

My ways of finding out about music have significantly changed over the years. Throughout my teens into my mid-twenties it was predominantly done through the UK music press (Melody Maker, NME, Kerrang, Select); late twenties it refined (narrowed?) into such publications as Uncut, Plan B, Careless Talk Cost Lives; today, for better or for worse, it is through radio (well, 6music mainly, with the odd foray) and Spotify. (One constant, however, has been recommendations by friends). My thoughts on Spotify are far too untidy to work through in this short post, but I would like to mention Spotify’s Discover Weekly. This is the service by which an algorithm, and for all I know a system of winches and pulleys, presents you with a playlist each week. It’s how I first heard ‘Harlem River’ by Kevin Morby.

The song begins with a simple guitar riff – a constant throughout – before the vocals come in. Years ago in NME, or Melody Maker, David Berman (once of Silver Jews and always of David Berman) reviewed a single by Spiritualized and criticized Jason Pierce for his use of tropes and lyrical preoccupations (drugs mainly). I suppose Morby with his talk of “moons”, “rivers” and “diamonds”, could easily, in this song at least, have the same accusations levelled at him. However, it is by drawing on these tropes lyrically, the use of repetition, and the live improvisational nature of the recording, he is able to hold the listener in stasis. And this stasis, an unknowing, was increased for me by Spotify’s Discover Weekly permitting me to listen without context. I had no idea who Morby was, except what I could imagine. I could have chosen to find out, but I didn’t. Of course I will, break the stasis, find out who he is, and listen to the album. But for another couple of listens I won’t. For, as I like to think Kevin Morby understands, it’s good to hang suspended every now and again.

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