REVIEW: Morgan Page – ‘In the Air’
By: Ben Norman
It’s 2012, and in April, Morgan Page will be releasing his fifth studio album. In the Air, the follow up to Believe, is Page’s most ambitious album to date. But let’s take a look at where the DJ/producer has been. The LA-based Page has received two Grammy nominations over his career, the first for the deadmau5 remix of his massive track with Lissie, “The Longest Road,” the second his captivating remix of Nadia Ali’s “Fantasy.” His albums and remixes have pushed the progressive house agenda on dance music in one of the most gorgeous ways ever, lush productions and entrancing vocals gracing dance floors across the globe. His remix work has always been forward-thinking, Page never shying down from getting his hands on a worthwhile song simply because the resulting mix wouldn’t be dance floor-tempoed. This is evidenced in his mixes for Leigh Nash, Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity,” and most notably Jenny Owens Young “F*** Was I.” And while Page’s albums haven’t always pushed his own evolution as exampled by other producers, he’s still had a good grasp over what defines him as an artist. This would serve him well on In the Air.
Where is Lissie?
The biggest thing to note is the lack of singer Lissie on this album, a voice that has brought him success, not just with “The Longest Road” but also with the Pete Yorn cover of “Strange Condition” and “Fight For You.” Her absence marks the first forward step on In the Air, not that the Page/Lissie combination wasn’t entertaining- but it yielded music that lacked an edge. Their collaborations were engaging but melancholy, especially for dance music. His music has taken a turn for the pulsating on In the Air, his work with different vocalists allowing him to explore different songwriters and vocal styles. Although it should be noted that, for a few tracks at least, the featured vocalists on this album are ones he has remixed for in the past. Tegan & Sara pair up on the single “Body Work,” a deep and affecting meeting of minds that yields a sparse production with the twins giving a performance worth singing along to. In 2010, Page remixed Tegan & Sara’s “Alligator,” the duo’s second single from their 2009 album Sainthood. Since it was a great remix, the twins pay him back twofold, appearing also on “Video,” a more complex track adorned with 8-bit instrumental flourishes. Nadia Ali, who you may recall from her work with iiO and, most recently, the big track with Spencer & Hill- “If You Believe,” hops on for “Carry Me.” Deeply melodic and filled with emotional tension, “Carry Me” gives us Page at his most effective, working with a stellar vocalist who knows how to write an excellent dance floor ballad. Not to say his track, “Gimme Plenty,” with ex-Dirty:Laundry singer Shana Halligan isn’t just as effective, but it takes a different slant. Page employs more electro in his music with Halligan, compensating for her soft vocals. Both tracks are excellent examples of Page working with the right people on the right tracks, and along with his Tegan & Sara tracks, give us four incredibly strong singles.
But we shouldn’t ignore the new vocal talent he brings to the table. On In the Air, Page brings to the forefront excellent male singers in the forms of Coury Palermo, Richard Walters, and Greg Laswell. He also gives us Shelley Harland, a welcome addition to the album with her captivating track “Love Mistaken.” Richard Walters gets two tracks with Page, “The Actor” and “Light Years,” which honestly come across as more about Page than Walters. The singer’s accented vocals are not very effective, but Page’s production is top notch. Laswell’s one track, “Addicted,” is gorgeous with organic instruments, vulnerable vocals, and electronic production woven together into a typically gorgeous Page number. It does recall his previous work, but who’s complaining? Palermo also gets one track, “The Only One,” aimed at getting people on the floor. His vocals are smooth and sound great echoed to oblivion. Personally I feel Shelley Harland comes out the best here, but take a close listen and find your favorite. Then go out and research the singers, especially since Shelley Harland and Coury Palermo just released new albums.
Page also teams up with two dance music aficionados. Angela McCluskey, no stranger to the recording industry at large or Page as a dance producer, hops on the album’s title track and rocks it’s socks off. While Page (teaming up with Sultan & Ned Shepard and BT) does an exemplary job creating dramatic tension on “In the Air,” it’s easy when working with such a capable vocalist as McCluskey. Having also worked with Telepopmusik and Deep Forest, McCluskey and Page first paired up on his 2010 album, Believe, her vocals gracing the track “Tell Me Why.” Jonathan Mendelsohn, also a veteran of dance music having worked with a variety of producers including Dash Berlin, Laidback Luke, and Laurent Wolf (to name a few), sings to the aggressively catchy “Where Did You Go?” This track works for a slew of reasons, one of which includes co-production from house maestro Andy Caldwell, the trio of talented artists giving one heck of a club stomper. Finally, Page teams up with another singer you may not be entirely prepared for – himself. On “Missing” and the Police cover of “S.O.S. (Message In A Bottle),” Page warps his own voice enough to mask any potential faults. While “Missing” sadly isn’t what could have been- an awesome progressive house rendition of Everything But the Girl’s awesome classic, it’s enjoyable enough, if a little reductive. The Police cover, however, is all sorts of distracting. It’s definitely hard to connect with all the effects thrown on this rendition. If the production had been a little more faithful or aggressive, the vocal effects could be a lot easier to overlook. I would love to hear this remixed and see what other artists can do with it.
Page’s Believe was a bit of a letdown for me. Being a Morgan Page supporter, I found a whole lot not to love about that album, and commented on it in my review. I’m immensely satisfied with In the Air. The production has a lot more energy, the songwriting is a lot tighter and the variety of singers gives enough of a variety. Page’s sound seems to exhibit some evolution as well, especially considering the caliber of talent he worked with on the title track and “Where Did You Go?,” one of the obvious standouts of the album. Other standouts include “Addicted,” “Love Mistaken,” “Carry On,” and “Gimme Plenty.” Basically, the majority of the album is a standout. There’s still a couple soft spots, but this is a solid album and worth the time looking into.
Released April 2012 on Nettwerk Records.