VA: A Number of Small Things: A Collection of Morr Music Singles From 2001–2007
Morr Music

This rather cumbersomely titled collection contains a wealth of Morr music—150 minutes and thirty-six songs to be exact. Its sound is a stylistic far cry from Morr's previous double-disc sets Putting the Morr in Morrissey and Blue Skied An' Clear which respectively showcase the label in its melodic electronica and shoegaze pop guises. Despite encompassing a broader time span (six years), the new set generally documents the German label's current focus on vocal-based pop-rock that incorporates electronics as subliminal sonic enhancement. Yes, artists associated with Morr since its inception—B. Fleischmann, Isan, Styrofoam, and Lali Puna—are present, but they're outnumbered by Seabear, Butcher The Bar, Seavault, Teamforest, Other People's Children, Electric President, and other recent recruits.

Representative of the label's current sound, Butcher The Bar's opening “Get Away” and “Leave This Town” sound like campfire ballads with breathy vocals accompanied by acoustic guitars, tambourine, and even banjo—needless to say, light years removed from an early Morr release like Phonem's Hydro Electric. Time moves on, of course, so no one should begrudge the fact that there's been a change in Morr's personality, especially when tunes like Butcher The Bar's go down so easily. Seavault (ex-Slowdive drummer Simon Scott and Isan member Antony Ryan) light a scalding shoegaze fire in the celestial “The Mercy Seat” and then offer a chiming take on “I Could Be Happy” by ‘80s band Altered Images. Despite the rather distracting nasal quality in his voice, Electric President boosts the set with dreamy head-nod and a strong ascending vocal hook in “Wearing Influences on Our Sleeve-Less T-shirts” and breezy funk- and folk-rock (“Good Ol' Boys,” “Dotted Lines”). Masha Qrella turns Bryan Ferry's “Don't Stop the Dance” into a noir-coloured nightclub entrancement, and her melancholic ode “Saturday Night” is elevated by her fragile vocal delivery and a laid-back acoustic arrangement. Benni Hemm Hemm's “Skvavars” and “Beginning End” strike me as wince-inducing stadium anthems but they're low points on an otherwise palatable collection.

Whether by accident or design, Morr artists of longer standing dominate disc two. Populous gets things moving with three great songs of varying character: the laid-back electronic pop sparkle of “Breathes the Best” and “Bon Bon Pour Les Rappers,” and the atmospheric shoegaze ballad “Blood Red Bird.” B. Fleischmann and Styrofoam maintain the high level with fine Welcome Tourist-styled exercises in piano-based melodic electronica (“Frisky He Said,” “Broken Monitors”) and “To Simply Lie Here and Breathe,” which pairs hip-hop beats with Styrofoam's trademark melancholia. Isan contributes three ultra-prettified renderings of French composer Erik Satie's well-known Trois Gymnopédies that may inspire the listener to seek out less sanitized classical piano treatments while Trebeljahr's unmistakable voice remains the nucleus of Two Lone Swordsmen's remix of Lali Puna's “Nin-Com-Pop.” Markus Acher and Trebeljahr also contribute a predictably lovely pair of electronic pop songs under the John Yoko alias (the silken ballad “Papa Was a Rodeo” and a cover of Smog's “Morning Paper”), with the only downside the minimal space allocated to Trebeljahr's vocalizing. Tucked near the collection's end, Other People's Children squiggly synth-pop is humanized by Jason Sweeney's vocal whisper (“On a Clear Day”), after which B. Fleischmann closes the set with the breezy instrumental “Hyvä Päivä.” Par for the course with Morr, the material comprising A Number of Small Things is refreshingly free of cynicism and instead exudes an innocence that detractors sometimes—with occasional justification—label twee. One shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the set is a collection that was assembled from 45 rpm 7-inch singles, making the album a hefty anthology of short stories as opposed to a novel.

April 2008