Kevin Morby’s latest album, Oh My God, is a concept album of sorts but one that is tied together more through a concept of tone and atmosphere rather than any specific narrative. Morby achieves this mastery of tone, crafting an album which evokes something spiritual but human. The album is inspired by Morby’s childhood experience with religion in Missouri, and it feels like religion feels when you’re a child; the sense of mystery, and the attraction to it, as well as the appreciation for the dark beauty of some of the imagery and music before you gain adult awareness of what all this symbolism means. All of these sensations are present in Oh My God, but by virtue of being recreated through an adult perspective, the melancholic tones of religious music, prayer, and the titular sentiment become more prominent.
The album is very sparse throughout, with maybe one instrument at a time sharing the spotlight at the top of the mix with Morby’s vocals. “Oh My God” begins with delicate piano keys tripping over each other in a gospel-jazz tune before Morby’s heavy but soft vocals float in and ride the piano notes seamlessly. It’s a great introduction to the album and pulls you onto Morby’s wavelength.
The track winds down with some excellent saxophone work which, as performed by Stuart Bogie and Cochemea Gastelum throughout the album, is a highlight on several songs including “Savannah” and “Ballad of Faye,” and the album in general. The album as a whole is an easy listening experience, with even percussion elements being largely gentle and in the form of handclaps (“No Halo”) and congas (“Nothing Sacred/All Things Wild”). When the album does introduce some electric rock elements, as on “OMG Rock and Roll” and “Congratulations,” it makes an impact, in addition to boosting your attention when it might have been waning.
The gentleness of the album is fitting for its introspective tone and its spiritual and hymnal influences, but towards the end of the 14 tracks, it does start to feel repetitive. By the eleventh track, the efficiency of the album has started to lag. For the most part, every song here feels exactly the right length, but by the end, it feels like one or two songs too many, with many treading the same territory of minimal instrumentation and vague but poetic lyrics. The primary exception to that closing lag is the instrumental “Ballad of Faye,” which is dynamic and melodious enough to stand on its own as an interesting piece of music, rather than merely as an interstitial moment like the earlier instrumental “Storm (Beneath the Weather)” does.
Despite the slightly underwhelming conclusion to the album, the experience, in general, is an evocative, thoughtful piece of music—that comes in at a reasonable time, 49 minutes—that will reward future listens. This is an album that will benefit more from feeling it rather than thinking it through, and that takes time. But for now, Oh My God is an intriguing listen, with a clear, sparse and effortlessly ethereal sound that is grounded in the everyday mysteries of life.