Sound and Vision with Kyle Morgan

Released earlier this year, Kyle Morgan’s debut record, Younger at Most Everthing, is packed with visceral imagery that takes us through the bleached Polaroid reflections of Kyle Morgan’s life. As he makes sense of what brought him to where we find him today, we get taken on a journey through Americana-tinged folk tunes that are as engaging as they are beautiful.

Kyle is the latest participant in our Sound and Vision series, as he tells us about the art that has helped shape his own.

Three albums I love:

The Bends – Radiohead

I was 12 or 13 and had just started writing my own songs when an older friend let me borrow his copy of The Bends.  Having grown up in the evangelical church, my experience of rock music had mostly been limited to ‘contemporary Christian’ bands: DC Talk, Newsboys, Jars of Clay, etc.  And after years of trying to get into the pop punk so popular among the hip skater kids, the otherworldliness of The Bends was a true breath of fresh air. When I first heard Johnny Greenwood’s wildly distorted guitar rip into the climax of Fake Plastic Trees and erupt part way through My Iron Lung, I realized, ‘ohhh, you can do anything you want with music.  There are no rules.’ At a crucial point in my development as a writer and person, this record gave me permission to be my own, to be weird and proud of it.

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards – Tom Waits

Tom Waits described this three-album set as ‘a lot of songs that fell behind the stove while making dinner.’  To me it is a remarkable, enduring collection of original compositions. Part 2, Bawlers, in particular has made a lasting impression on me as a songwriter. Bottom of the World, Shiny Things, and Widow’s Grove all seem to be perpetually playing in the margins of my consciousness, emerging every time I sit down at a piano, showing up incomplete on intoxicated, late-night voice-memos (not so much these days as I no longer drink). There is something archetypical, irreducible, and timeless in these songs that draws me in like a moth to a flame.

St. Cloud – Waxahatchee

Upon my first listen of St. CloudI found it a simple, pleasant, more modern rendition of traditional female-led Americana in the tradition of Dolly, Emmylou, and Gillian etc. But as I continued listening, more depth and complexity emerged from the semblance of simplicity. Katie Crutchfield manages to explore complex themes through surprising, at times surrealistic language while maintaining a firm rootedness in the tradition of American song. Seeing her perform live went a long way towards helping me understand what she’s doing in these songs.  She brought a light presence of energy, joy and newfound freedom to the stage, symbolized by a flowing white dress.  The arrangements were just as they are on the record, nothing extra, everything – from acoustic strums, simple lead guitar lines, and straight-forward vocal harmony – serving to support the song.  I got chills as she sang, ‘When you get back on the M train, watch the city mutate’ to a Brooklyn audience.  A sense of collective recognition seemed to wash over the crowd and I was reminded that in its most transcendent moments, art has the power to stoke awareness of our inherent connectivity.

A book you love:

Van Gogh: The Life

Last year I read a collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters which, by and large, are addressed to his younger brother, Theo, who supported Vincent throughout his short but prolific career as a painter.  Then I embarked on Van Gogh: The Life, a 1,000 page biography that tells in great detail the story of a man who struggled deeply to find his calling.  At first, Vincent followed his uncles into the art trade, but soon his religious fanaticism and proclivity toward severe asceticism led him to offend the social conventions of 19th century Holland and bring shame upon his conservative Protestant family.  After failing in his dream  to follow his father’s footsteps and become a minister, Vincent decided to be a painter at the age of 27.  Ten years of furious non-stop work would follow.  I suppose I relate to Van Gogh’s trajectory: religious preoccupation turned to an obsession with artistic work, amidst a life struggling with mental illness, suffering the pendulum-like motions of swinging from one interpretation of life to another, from chaste abstinence to total sensory license.  Just like Ira Louvin, I suppose, Vincent embodies the complexities of human life, the pursuit of truth and its many contradictory expressions.

A film you love:


This recent thriller about a 17th century Italian nun who has disturbing mystical and erotic visions is truly spellbinding.  Besides being an entertaining and beautifully shot film, I found it healing for the little Christian boy in me, scarred by sexual guilt, to see a woman in a position of religious authority, freely engaging in sexual desires running contrary to traditional Christian doctrine.  I like how the character of Benedetta demonstrates that religious conviction and sexuality doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.  Of course, there’s a lot more going on in this crazy movie, but that’s something I took away from it.

A song you couldn’t live without:

Nearer My God To Thee – The Louvin Brothers

I was first introduced to this Alabama born and bred brother duo when Tumbling Bones – an old-time/roots band I used to play in – decided to cover one of their songs.  Later I bought a cheap boxed CD set of their recordings and quickly fell in love with the incredibly tight blood harmony that sets them apart from the other classic country acts of their era (50s and early 60s). I was particularly drawn to the older brother with the dazzling high tenor voice, Ira Louvin, fascinated by the juxtaposition of his fervent, fundamentalist religious convictions and the reckless, ‘sinful’ lifestyle he engaged in.  One minute Ira was preaching to his audience – the song Satan Is Real for example includes a lengthy sermon warning a congregation of the devil’s immanence – and the next he’s shit-faced, smashing his mandolin on stage, abusing his wife, chasing other women, etc.  To me he represents the walking contradiction we humans are, how even while we dream of high and lofty ideals, we battle furiously with our ancient animal passions.  I’ve known this old hymn my whole life, but the fervor and intention with which the Louvin Brothers sing makes it brand new for me.  I realised that rather than being a mere ‘Christian’ song, Nearer My God To Thee is actually a remarkably broad expression of spiritual longing, capable of transcending any particular religious tradition.

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