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With his four acclaimed solo albums and myriad records of various collaboration, Kevin Morby has become a true musical auteur. Each record possesses its own unique persona and explores intriguing themes and fertile terrain through shifting, focused textures and dexterous, dedicated skill. And now, with the lavish, resplendent, career-best double LP Oh My God (out April 26th via Dead Oceans), Morby delivers a grandiose director’s cut of his biggest statement to date, epic in scope as well as sound. Additionally, today Kevin shares the video for the album’s first single, “No Halo,” directed by Chris Good.
Throughout his past work, Morby has noticed the ubiquity of an apparent religious theme. Though not identifying as “religious” in the slightest, Morby recognizes in himself a somewhat spiritual being with a secular attitude towards the soulful. And so, in an effort to tackle that notion head-on and once-and-for-all, he sat down in his form of church—on planes and in beds—and wrote what would become his first true concept-album. If Singing Saw was Kevin’s LA record, and City Music was his ode to New York City, then Oh My God lives in the sky, above the weather, both nowhere and everywhere at once.
“Religion is around all of us,” Morby says. “It’s a universal language and there is profound beauty in it. I’ve found it a useful tool within songwriting, as it’s something everyone can relate to on some level. There are religious themes or imagery in a lot of what I’ve done, so I wanted to get all of that out and speak only that language for a whole record. It’s not a born-again thing; it’s more that ‘oh my god’ is such a profound statement we all use multiple times a day and means so many different things. It’s not about an actual god but a perceived one, and it’s an outsider’s view of the human experience in terms of religion.”
In 2016, on the heels of a trio of critically-acclaimed albums, he wrote the protest song “Beautiful Strangers” about the devastating world events of that year, and in it he inserted multiple “oh my god”s as pleas of desperation. The song became his most celebrated work to date and the phrase became a mantra for Morby, inspiring him to weave the exclamation conceptually into the fabric of an entire album. In effect, he sought to highlight how that immortal turn of phrase embodies so much of our relationship with the sacred and profane—how religion is all around us, always, and that by simply uttering an OMG we enforce its ubiquity and ability to endure while humanizing its reach.
In January 2017, preceding the release of his fourth solo record City Music, Morby went into producer Sam Cohen’s Brooklyn studio for four days to record a handful of material written with his usual folk-meets-lo-fi-electric-guitar sound in mind. Cohen, with whom Morby made his 2016 breakthrough Singing Saw, had started recording the new songs with a business-as-usual mentality when on the third day he was struck with an idea: Rather than create what was becoming Singing Saw: Part 2, what if they stripped everything back and used only a few colors at a time instead of the entire Morby rock palette? “Sam suggested that we make songs that sound like sonic pop-art that only have a few colors, like a Keith Haring piece,” Morby says. “My other records had tons of colors, so we decided to keep this stark, like a painting that’s black-and-white with one vibrant blue.”
This synesthetic concept plays into the broader vision for the record. Never has Kevin zeroed in on an overall aesthetic to the degree of detail that he as with OMG, from album art to every visual element. In addition to the striking album art, he also worked with the filmmaker Chris Good (who directed every music video) on a short film to accompany the release. The film stars Morby as he wanders through a dream-like series of encounters—on planes, in cars, in a diner, at home in his back yard—and presents a Gondry-esque vision of the album and its holy mood.
“This one feels full circle, my most realized record yet,” he says. “It’s a cohesive piece; all the songs fit under the umbrella of this religious theme. I was able to write and record the album I wanted to make. It’s one of those marks of a life: this is why I slept on floors for seven years. I’ve now gotten the keys to my own little kingdom, and I’m devoting so much of my life to music that I just want to keep it interesting. At the end of the day, the only thing I don’t want is to be bored. If someone wants to get in my face about writing a non-religious religious record? Thank god. That’s all I gotta say.”