You probably know Kyle Morton as the lead of Portland orchestral rock band Typhoon, whose last album White Lighter has been on constant rotation here at WTD towers since its release back in 2013. I tried to explain what made the album so special in a piece for the New Welsh Review, citing the paradoxical coexistence of sorrow and happiness that allowed such cathartic sounds to exist. As I said in the article, “Overtly happy songs would seem superficial, ignorant to pain, while unduly morose songs would ignore one of the reasons illness is painful in the first place: the removal of joy”.
While Typhoon’s fourth record is still in the works, Morton last month released a surprise solo album, What Will Destroy You. Again the twin themes of tragedy and pleasure are central, as is the idea of catharsis and release. Opener ‘Poor Bastard’ finds the narrator at his funeral, being lowered into the ground to the sound of a stranger’s eulogy, though he refuses to settle in his eternal bed. “I was done with being dead,” Morton sings, “I leapt out from the casket, looking like Dracula’s revenge”. And while this leads to an awkward moment where the narrator is standing up front laughing as the crowd filters away, kind of put out at the now-deathless funeral, it allows for a post-casket/pre-death epiphany:
“And in that moment I believed in
karma, and in my mouth the mantra formed
It will come back eventually
You will be reborn”
However, while mortality is an intrinsic element, the album does not tread the exact same ground as previous Typhoon releases. What Will Destroy You shifts the focus onto love, more specifically what Morton describes as “the ambivalence of erotic love,” leading to an intimate, surprisingly honest album which delves into things both more wonderful and mundane than your average love songs. Take ‘Innuendos’, opening with playful horns and maintaining a certain joy across its run-time. The track appears full of vim and vigour on the surface yet hides an ordinary character, a narrator full of spectacular thoughts in an unspectacular existence. Amidst this love story he stands naked in front of his partner, feeds birds in his dressing gown and imagines murdering the reckless driver who almost T-boned him, though the encounter ends in awkward apology as hard feelings drift away.
‘Survivalist Fantasy’ is a morose love song about the end of the world in the vein of Strand of Oaks’ ‘Bonfire‘ or talons’ Songs For Boats, though the duo find being the last people alive removes a certain thrill from love, mating rituals made redundant (“The garden’s ours now we’re competitionless / But suppose a third party’s necessary / Just to get it on”). ‘The Aftermath’ is sensual in a literal sense, full of sights and smells and still strong thoughts, a gentle memory growing tragic with the passing of time, while the ‘Gestalt of Original Pain’ is equally backward looking. Here the past is a tangible thing, something with form and shape and weight which pulls at your mind through the day and invites you in at night, its halls dark and empty, its door and windows locked. But hope still pushes through, that bright-white cord of defiance that threads its way through all of Kyle Morton’s writing, insisting that escape from that place is always possible, no matter how long it takes.
“Give yourself a million years to wake up in the morning
And give yourself a million more then if you’re still tired
There is nothing
There is nothing
There is nothing but time
We are not sick you and I
Don’t you listen to lies”
‘Automatic’ is a song of compulsion and addiction, and those who lean on strange comforts when faced with a deeper void, even if such habits create a narcotic fog which only deepens the original issues. “It’s my head, It’s my head,” sings Morton, “breaking itself to make a thought but instead / Just some pornographic images to stave off my death / It’s all automatic”. The track feels startlingly relevant and contemporary, like all those drinking blues folk songs updated for our digital world, where intimacy is never further nor closer than a half-inch through an LED screen. ‘Water Torture’ finds a narrator in a similar stasis, rendered motionless by the absence of his lover, a tragicomedy in which Morton pushes further than most songwriters dare, where the sadness and anxiety are still real and the humour is no cheap gag.
“I’ll be discovered by explorers
My body fossilized in torpor
And all the while
my thoughts repeat like
Chinese water torture
In disbelief at your misfortune you say
Hell I was only gone the weekend
And then I burst to flames
You see I’ve lived entire lives
In a single a moment”
‘Perverse Fascination’ sees intimacy permitted on one level but withheld on another (“If I couldn’t have your heart / I would have your body,”) while ‘What Will Save You” sees a surrender of aspirations in favour of simplicity, dreams of grandeur dropped for love. This theme continues into closer ‘My Little Darlin Knows My Nature’, the narrator overcoming an aversion to the banality of love as he understood it, thus experiencing the healing, life-altering sort of human-human connection that is strong enough to fill the cracks of life and, ultimately, make living worth your while.
“I never learned to trust a love song
It was not because the words were trite
But I felt the love itself was trite
Now my little darlin I’ll sing you a love song
One you can hang your hat on every night
I will be your witness if you be mine
I will be your witness if you be mine
I will be your witness if you be my wife”
What Will Destroy You is out now and you can grab it from the Typhoon Bandcamp page or on vinyl via Bug Hunt. Kyle Morton is going on a solo tour of the US/Canada this January, and you can find a full list of dates here.
Photography by Matthew Thomas Ross