New band of the day – No 932: James Vincent McMorrow

Raised on hardcore punk, this Justin Vernon lookalike has retreated into haunting, atmospheric acoustic territory

Hometown: Dublin.

The lineup: James Vincent McMorrow (voice, guitar).

The background: If you're in the mood for wintry wistfulness, James Vincent McMorrow – this week's winner of the Justin Vernon lookalike competition – is your man. With a beard, shirt/hat combo and faraway look in his eye, his appearance suggests he recorded his debut album in an isolated house by the Irish Sea, which is funny, because that's exactly what he did. He hasn't yet gone the whole hog and, like Vernon, acquired mononucleosis, but it's surely only a matter of time.

Apparently, softly strummed balladry is not his natural forte. It's often said that electronic musicians – Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never admitted it himself recently – retreat into quieter, more ambient realms after taking noise as far as they felt it could go. And so it sort of is with McMorrow, whose first musical love was hardcore and who spent his teens learning to play drums to the likes of Refused, At the Drive-In and Glassjaw.

It was after hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash, and a track called I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know by late, legendary soul man Donny Hathaway (as opposed to legendarily late – he was always on time, was Donny) that he decided to change direction. As you might already have guessed, the songs on McMorrow's debut album, Early in the Morning – not out till March 2011 although we've already got a version, that's how important we are – sound more like CSN&Y than they do Hathaway.

Other things you can't tell from listening to his mostly acoustic and sparse, occasionally rocked-up and huskily whispered folk: that he was influenced by John Steinbeck, F Scott Fitzgerald and Roald Dahl, writers who examined, in McMorrow's words, "the darker, less spoken-about aspects of life, solitude and disillusionment" (and that's just Willy Wonka); and that he learned how to structure and arrange a song, and how to deploy sounds, via the hi-tech hip-hop productions of the Neptunes and Timbaland.

Yes, there is a track, We Don't Eat, which you could imagine being covered by a "soul" artist, while This Old Dark Machine could be the reverse, a cover of an old soul tune. And McMorrow has a high, sorrowful voice, equal parts grit and sugar, that could win him fans in the James Morrison demographic just as easily as the James Blake camp. But on the whole, we're in haunting, atmospheric acoustic territory here. "In the forest, I made my home," he sings on And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop, and you can tell, and there's no shame in that.

The buzz: "The creator of one of the finest records of the year."

The truth: As long as he avoids close oral contact with anyone, he should do well.

Most likely to: Follow you down to the red oak tree.

Least likely to: Fear the noise that moves so soft and low.

What to buy: Early in the Morning is released on 7 March.

File next to: Bon Iver, James Blake, James Morrison, Jamie Woon.

Links: myspace.com/jamesvmcmorrow

Friday's new band: Braids.

Contributor

Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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