St. Kilda has taken an entirely atypical path to its self-titled debut LP. Singer-songwriter Joshua Morrison and multi-instrumentalist/producer Jeramy Koepping first teamed up to create the instrumental score for director Megan Griffiths’s 2011 film The Off Hours. The collaboration proved fruitful, so they were brought in again to make the music for Griffiths’s next film, Eden. The duo proved adept at finding the right musical moods for the big screen, but rather than strictly stay on the composer path, they formed a band. On St. Kilda, they mix the atmospheric palette of their soundtrack work with Morrison’s vocals to create an inviting album of indie folk that soars weightlessly like gulls effortless floating over ocean thermals.
For the first St. Kilda album, Morrison and Koepping brought in a host of players to create a sweeping and sleek Bon Iver–esque modern folk sound that hasn’t the slightest trace of heaviness. It’s a shiny, ethereal backdrop for Morrison’s moping. While all the songs have a similar feel, there’s enough minor variation to keep things interesting; from the lap steel accents “September” to the shoulder swaying near-dance beats on tracks like “Mammoth Cave.”
Morrison sings with a just-above-a-whisper breathiness that’s confident in its downtrodden spirit. His lyrics tend to go the route of universality over specifics, dwelling on the complications of relationships. Most of the sentiments echo the melancholy chorus of “September”: “It’s been such a long time / since I could with the slightest conviction / ‘Things will be all right / It’s gonna be all right’ / That’s a lie.” The way Morrison holds and paces certain hushed syllables adds a slyly cutting sarcasm to lines like “Traveled all this way / to feel alone in a brand new place / I feel fine” on “Erosion.”
St. Kilda succeeds because of the traits the guys picked up from scoring movies. While beautiful, the instrumentals never feel pushy; they don’t strive to forcefully grab the listener’s attention, but rather artfully recede into the background. Even with the addition of lyrics, Morrison’s delicate delivery keeps the focus mostly about the sonic moods. Each track drifts with the graceful softness of a feather gently drifting in an warm updraft. It’s easy to imagine St. Kilda as the soundtrack to a Sundance darling that hasn’t been made yet.