Katy Morley excels at taking her time. The Minneapolis-born singer, who performs simply as Morly, has been releasing music since 2015, but slowly, a song or two at a time on a string of singles and EPs that came as she weighed graduate school against the idea of a career in music. Her unhurried approach has given Morly ample opportunity to hone her songs, paring them down to their essentials: piano, a glimmer of percussion and her languorous vocals.
Though her musical arrangements tend toward spare, it’s not a minimalist aesthetic she’s after on ’Til I Start Speaking, her first full-length release. Rather, Morly’s songs are as rich as they are subdued, and the effect is a collection of slow-burning songs that seem to radiate heat. She and her frequent collaborator Chris Stracey (of the Australian electronic duo Bag Raiders) have a keen understanding of how subtle touches can frame a song. On opener “’Til I Start Speaking (I & II),” it’s the resonant thump of a kick drum that cuts through twinkling piano and hazy, drifting electronics midway through the song, as if Morly is interrupting a sweetly drifting reverie to refocus attention on the present.
Later, on “Superlunar,” it’s the barely there bassline that almost escapes notice as it comes and goes under a clacking beat and gossamer synthesizers, while Morly sings in a bewitching murmur, double-tracking her voice into harmony vocals on the final verse. The most striking detail of “Wasted” is what’s not there: The song is a low-key soul tune, built around somber piano and a skeletal beat, with wordless backing vocals buoying her voice. It’s her voice that’s so remarkable here: she sings about broken love, a topic she could have easily blown into stadium-sized proportions. Instead, she plays it cool, her dusky vocals even and measured, with only occasional staticky bursts of an effects-treated instrument—a snare drum hit, maybe, or a distorted electric guitar?—popping off like distant explosions, betraying the wringing emotion she’s holding back. It’s magnificent.
Not every song hits quite as hard. The album loses focus in the middle on a couple of less distinctive offerings: the late-night lounge-jazz vibe of “Up Above,” for example, or the listless “Savior Mind Tattoo,” which never quite sparks the sultry sensibility Morly seems to be trying to hit. If those tracks aren’t as sharply written as the rest of the album, the contrast helps highlight just how compelling the other eight songs are. If Morly’s willingness to take her time is uncommon enough in a culture built on instant gratification, her ability to sit still, be silent and simply listen until her heart speaks is a rare gift indeed. Now that she’s started speaking, let’s hope she never stops.
Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013, and writing about music and pop culture for longer than he cares to admit. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.