T. Hardy Morris
The Digital Age of Rome LP
(New West Records)
It’s weird to think how tumultuous a year 2020 was, and how that tumult was reflected in the music which was released at the time. Even if a band didn’t actually have a political streak in their hair or bone in their body, conflict in the times seemed to appear in the music. Now, 2021 has had its share of rough running too, but there has seemed to be an intentional shift away from that focus and, as a result there’s something unnerving about the subdued nature of T. Hardy Morris’ Digital Age of Rome LP. After all the anger and energy which radiated out of the last couple of years, hearing (and being able to recognize) the tides change so clearly is refreshing.
As soon as needle catches groove and “Dirt Rocker” opens the A-side of The Digital Age of Rome, a drowsy sense of delirium overtakes audiences as Morris’ vocals simultaneously drip honey and anti-depressants , and the instrumentation seeks to prop up those vocals. That form endures into the second song on the side, “New New New Next Next Next,” but the movement definitely does get better as it moves. On the second cut, Morris’ vocals cut cleanly through the mix which marks a distinct improvement from its predecessor; vocals which address cultural norms of “newer is better” and “more money” and “more sex” are presented as depressing and despicable, and are perfectly accessible for anyone who ever felt like they were on the outside looking in.
The drowsy and lackadaisical tempos established in the early running of …Age of Rome‘s A-side are upheld through the album’s title track (although the instrumental performances are markedly improved) and “Shopping Centre Sunsets,” and actually manage to touch upon drowsiness levels comparable only to those which once bled out of “Strawberry Fields Forever” as “Down & Out” opens The Digital Age of Rome‘s B-side, but the chorus-effected guitars which drive “Love Takes” will instantly inject listeners with new signs of life. There, Morris doesn’t so much change his delivery as he does realign it with the instruments in the song; suddenly, those guitars cut through cleanly and the deceptively programmed beats provide a better punch which pushes the song along beautifully. Unfortunately, “First World Problems” loses the point and power a bit as it backslides in tone and tempo, but “Fake Gold” recovers with some great, Flaming Lips-esque sonics and “I Assure You” manages to deliver something resembling romantic sentiments (or, “real, genuine emotion,” if you like) before “Just Pretend Everything Is Fine” delivers a genuinely energetic rocker which closes out the proceedings.
On one hand, it could be argued that “…Everything Is Fine” appears entirely too late in the album’s running because the odds of most listeners being patient enough to make it that far into the album for a three-minute payday are pretty far removed, but the good part about the cut’s inclusion is that it implies there may indeed be better things to come from T. Hardy Morris in the future. The Digital Age of Rome requires a patient disposition from listeners in order to get the greatest reward, but there is promise embedded in the end which ensures that some listeners are guaranteed to return when the band releases a follow-up. [Bill Adams]
The Digital Age of Rome LP is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.