KEVIN MORBY has worked with two of Brooklyn's more notable underground projects: Woods and the Babies. As bassist for Woods, Morby's contributions were largely as a touring entity, filling out the psych-folk diagrams of Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere. The Babies, conversely, allowed Morby the wiggle room to lead his rock 'n' roll rebellions with Vivian Girls' Cassie Ramone, releasing albums in 2011 and 2012.
It wasn't until Morby's solo debut, Harlem River, that he unleashed the truer nature of his muses, with contributions from notable artists like Cate Le Bon, Tim Presley, and the Babies' drummer Justin Sullivan, among others.
"I enjoyed them both," says Morby of his time in Woods and the Babies, the latter of which is currently on hiatus. "They were both just very one-dimensional for me. I was only doing this one thing with both of them, and that's the magic of the solo artist—that it's complete freedom. There are no boundaries."
Morby's album is a hypnotic undertaking, building folksy turns of phrase around spacious, beautifully simple arrangements of organs and repetitive guitar patterns. His classically restrained vocals borrow from the dreamy drawl of progenitors like Lou Reed—he even has a song called "Wild Side."
Harlem River is essentially a collection of dark odes to New York City, and the title track is a perfect example of that slightly indirect homage. "I walked along that river one day, in Upper Manhattan, and was really moved by it," Morby says. "Something about it being this sort of hidden river that no one seemed to know existed. I don't know; it felt like my secret, and a few weeks later I happened upon that riff on my guitar, and the words 'Harlem River, talk to me' just sorta fell outta my mouth, and that was that."
With a summer 7-inch release from Suicide Squeeze, a second leg of stateside tour dates, and a sophomore solo record due out in October, Morby's plate is clearly full, although the direction he'll steer his newfound autonomy is less clear. Judging by the somehow aimless but successful cohesion of his striking first solo effort, that's probably a good thing.