December 2, 2023

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David John Morris: Wyld Love Songs Album Review

In his work with Red River Dialect and on his solo records, David John Morris—the British singer-songwriter and ordained Buddhist chaplain—has written about journeys both sacred and profane. In songs that ride the line between meditative folk and intricate post-rock, Morris writes about an ongoing search for community with romantic partners, bandmates, and co-religionists, like the monks who inspired his 2021 solo debut, Monastic Love Songs. It was a collection of open, simple songs, heavy on atmosphere, sung with the confidence of a man rediscovering his calling after spending a year in a Nova Scotian monastery. But when Morris came back to London in its wake, he had little money, few possessions, and nowhere to stay. So he took a room in what is known as a guardianship: a condemned building (in this case, a North London nursing home) rented out for cheap, to dissuade squatters and fill space until the building is torn down. Morris only intended to stay until he could put together the rent for his own apartment, and in January 2020, he began to record demos for a follow-up, with the plan of fleshing them out in a studio.

Like most stories around this time, Morris’ plans were massively disrupted, and during the subsequent lockdowns, he hunkered down in the guardianship and kept writing. The temporary home became a newfound community, and the demos became Morris’ second solo record, Wyld Love Songs. Written with only an acoustic guitar and a drum machine, the resulting album is both spare and playful, each song built around Morris’ high tenor and delicate fingerpicking. For the first time he also embraces unexpected electronic textures: Squelchy synths drive the queasy sway of first single “Pebble,” while “Karaoke” achieves a kind of lo-fi jangle pop, its buzzing arpeggios and insistent drum machine pulsing around the story of a late night karaoke party. The muted electronic backbeat on “TT’s Surf School,” meanwhile, carries the song from soaring folk with a kind of digital intimacy, restrained and beautiful as a vintage Magnetic Fields tune. If prior records sought to evoke live-band interplay, the effect here is more artificial and homey. These are folk songs that find warmth and comfort in decay and decline, like a faded brick wall covered with a handmade quilt.

Wyld is full of little stories from life in and around the guardianship: ping pong games, movie screenings, and the little rituals that arise at the start of a courtship. For Morris, these details take on a gleeful mundanity, expanding into thoughts of impermanence and the interconnection of all life. “Black Kite” creates a strange analogy between his own overwhelming emotions and the plight of the first monkeys to cross the ocean between Africa and South America: “Winds and currents carry me,” he marvels, “to a land beyond belief.”

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