I’m always a big fan of the albums I get sent from the Red Tree Music Group. They specialize in EPs from sad sirens and I am all about EPs from sad sirens, most recently Morgan Wilson's Love Stuck.
It’s actually quite a departure stylistically for Red Tree, who is best known for acoustic-oriented acts like Folk Family Revival and Shellee Coley. Take Love Stuck's title track, which incorporates a very retro synth line as a backing track over more conventional singer-songwriter fare. This lovely and unexpected bit of techno lends the track some definite personality. It’s hard to even figure out where Wilson belongs in the pop music box. She embodies both sweetness but drags chants and cheers and a space-age breakdown into the mix.
It gets even weirder and more wonderful as things go on. A standout track is “Clue,” which would have made a better opener with its soft, strange pause in the beginning. It may contain the single best bass line I’ve ever heard from a Red Tree recording, and it’s in the rhythm that the song really finds its courage. Even the guitar is percussive, more concerned with a staccato pal- mute than the actual melody of the chords. All the beauty comes from Morgan’s soft voice and a few decorative synth flourishes, and it makes the whole thing feel like an invigorating run.
However, “Clue” is also the best example of Wilson’s somewhat muddled lyrical style. It’s probably unfair to compare her to other Red Tree acts like Kathryn Hallberg and Mason Lankford, but I simply had a hard time figuring out what a lot of her songs were even supposed to be about. I love listening to “Clue” even though I can’t figure out if it’s a love song or a hate one. One minute it feels like a deep affection, and the next like a warning. Wilson lacks something of a sense of clarity.
The album does have a very cohesive yet dynamic approach, though. There are enough thematic elements, both lyrically and instrumentally, that it flows well, but each song takes them in new directions. “On the Brink” introduces a soft piano over that same rhythm-heavy approach in “Clue,” and it maintains the same indecisiveness that tends to haunt her subjects.
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As a record, Love Stuck seems obsessed with choices; it wants to be a lot of different things at once. On the one hand, it has a pretty standard pop-princess poise that’s perfect for a post-Lorde world. Hidden in that back of that, though, is something closer to Houston’s ethereal pop scene best exemplified by BLSHS and Bang Bangz. On a song like “English Rain” the comparison is particularly apt — it's soft and ambient but filled with earnestness.
I like Love Stuck. It’s a solid release from a young woman who clearly has a lot of potential, and Wilson’s voice alone is worth the price. Even if I sometimes don’t really know what she’s saying, I do love the way she says it.
Morgan Wilson performs Saturday night at The Wall Event Hall, 30420 F.M. 2978 (Ste. 480), The Woodlands. Doors open at 6 p.m.