Album review: Rae Morris – Someone Out There

John Preston

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Rae Morris’ 2015 debut album was pleasant certainly and had some moments of real clarity and clout, but these were few and far between. Unguarded became a critically acclaimed album that many seemed to forget about pretty quickly. ‘Reborn’, however, the first single release from Morris’ second album Someone Out There, was simply startling. Appropriately titled, it came with a dynamic and confrontational synth soundscape that made clear Morris had rethought the piano and comfortable trip-hop sound that had dominated her debut.

The northern singer-songwriter’s amorphous and extravagant vocals, which admittedly were never called into question anyway, along with the newly sharpened songwriting, are both assured and mature, and far exceed the edgier and expected second album reinvention that is common with many pop acts. ‘Reborn’ still remains a highlight now that Someone Out There can be heard in full, but Rae Morris’ sophomore album secures any doubt that she is indeed anything other than something very special.

Album opener ‘Push Me to My Limit’ firmly plants the seed that Morris is a big fan of early Bjork at the time when the Icelandic visionary made pop songs that melded glorious sing-song melodies with electronic and often orchestral soundscapes. Sounding like a descendent from Hyperballad, this is a quiet but determined introduction to Morris’ new world and one where brass, strings and electronics all cocoon the singer whilst her determined and acrobatic vocals soar and swoop. Like the majority of Someone Out There, ‘Push Me to My Limit’ is produced by MyRiot who has clearly found a perfect collaborator in Morris.

There are two moods at play for the majority of the record, one that is more extravert and playful and the other inward looking and reflective. These two variants also come with their own sonic template. The likes of ‘Do It’, ‘Dip My Toe’ and ‘Atletico (The Only One)’ are made for the radio. They won’t disrupt the playlists too much with a sound that is current and dance-hall light inflected but without ever dispensing of thoughtful, clever hooks and nuanced performances. The remainder of the album is darker and more experimental with the likes of ‘Wait for the Rain’ proving how unpredictable and precise a songwriter Morris can be. Only on the drippy title track and the unfinished demo-like quality of ‘Lower the Tone’ does the quality drop below the very high standard established throughout.

Along with ‘Reborn’, the most striking and unexpectedly pounding song here is the penultimate track ‘Rose Garden’. The type of sound Morris perfects here is not necessarily fashionable, a genuinely exciting and constantly morphing mix of buzzing rave synths intercut with string-led chamber pop that is eclectic and immediate and thoughtful. It narrates and offers support to a friend who is experiencing an overwhelming panic attack. Rae co-wrote the track and the remaining album with her now-partner, Benjamin Garrett, AKA Fryars. The pair constantly demonstrate just how capable they are off creating intricate but sticky melodies that outshine many that are written by a team of 15 people or so.

If ‘Rose Garden’ picks from various classic pop tropes from the last 35 year, and not the last eight months as is common place in the genre, then ‘Dancing with Character’, the final track, sounds practically prehistoric. Like two very different sonic sides of the same coin, this lush and sentimental tale of two ageing dancers could perfectly score the next Exotic Marigold Hotel film. It is lovely nonetheless and completely accomplished in its aims and, well, is just a fantastic song. Rae Morris seems to understand that sometimes this is enough but she rarely just stops there and Someone Out There is a near-perfect showcase for her considerable growth and talents.

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