Elliot Maginot's 'Easy Morning' Is Shockingly Complex for an All-Acoustic Album
Published Jun 02, 2021Elliot Maginot continues to widen his horizons with Easy Morning, the Montreal singer-songwriter's most musically diverse and thorough record yet. With his 2014 debut album Young/Old/Everything.in.Between, Maginot pursued the type of ambient, melancholic alt-folk style with which Julien Baker has since become virtually synonymous. He went much bigger and bolder for his second album, 2018's Comrades, recording warm, '80s-inspired pop-rock songs with generous arrangements that brought to mind the lushness of Bon Iver, Bon Iver. With Easy Morning, Maginot takes another step further, venturing far from the confines of North American music and incorporating a long, long list of instruments, pulling largely from European classical orchestration and traditional West African sounds.
This disguises the fact that Easy Morning is an entirely acoustic album; in fact, it's Maginot's first fully acoustic album. Turning to the basics of the acoustic guitar after multiple records of rich, reverberating electric tones isn't a surprising move for a singer-songwriter of Maginot's persuasion. What's a bit surprising — and even a little funny — is that although one of the main temptations of an "unplugged" album is the stripped-down, one-take simplicity of writing and recording it, Easy Morning is actually Maginot's most complexly assembled record yet.
There are horns, flutes, clarinets, saxophones, strings, banjo, mandolin, Wurlitzer, kora, charango, balafon, marimba, glockenspiel, accordion, xylophone… the list goes on. It can sometimes feel like a bit much, but it works. While some artists' globetrotting efforts may wind up almost as disastrously contrived as Infant Sorrow's "African Child," Maginot's multicultural mix sounds reasonably authentic. Even the more jam-packed songs like "Dead Church" and "Emilio (Any Day Now)" are airy and groovy, with Maginot's lilting voice floating on a breeze.
With producer Connor Seidel again at the helm, Easy Morning is a pristine-sounding record. "Holy Water" has a lush, gorgeous soundscape that dips into minor keys just long enough to make the return home that much more satisfying. Similarly, "Holy Father" builds an engrossing atmosphere that slowly unfolds with percussive flutes and a commendable string quartet arrangement by Antoine Gratton. Throughout, Maginot's vocal harmonies remain sublime, and he plays the Spanish guitar with a Leonard Cohen-esque sensibility. Interspersed between the songs are clips of rooms full of conversation as well as the quiet scratches of a lonesome cabin retreat, evoking both the bustle of the city and the quiet of the country.
Maginot's lyricism is evocative and open-ended, with poetry that feels pointed yet leaves the option to meld it to one's own interpretations. Throughout these songs, he sings broadly of efforts to understand and be understood, to point out one's failings and make them right. Yet the album's rich, glowing scenery tends to camouflage the darkness in Maginot's writing: There's a cold, bitter anger that's hidden under the warm, sweet surface of "Dead Men Walking," a wry pessimism in the jaunty folk of "True Love Might Not Find You in the End," and a sense of powerlessness underscoring the dark, mysterious force of the album's title track.
Eclectic and organic, Easy Morning reaffirms Maginot as a visionary talent in Canadian music. There are perhaps more exceptional songs to be found elsewhere in his catalogue, but his arrangements here are unparalleled. The sounds that had begun to enter Maginot's vocabulary in Comrades have now become his primary musical language. Constantly evolving while showing an eagerness to transcend borders and genres, Maginot demands renewed attention with each record. It's hard to predict what may come next. (Audiogram)