Spec in Song explores the use of the speculative in music, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or beyond.
The content of Kyle Morton’s songs is just about as wide-ranging and eclectic as the musical styles he works into them. This makes sense considering that his main band, Typhoon, consists of eleven multi-instrumentalists; their work features acoustic and electric guitars, basses, violins, drums, ukuleles, banjos, and even a horn section. Yet somehow in this mess of moving parts, he manages to craft imaginative and intricate speculative worlds.
Morton is by no means a ‘speculative artist,’ however you might define it. His themes and stories are all grounded in real-world problems such as aging, relationships, and chronic illness—specifically Lyme disease, of which Morton is a sufferer.
However, as he addresses these ideas in his colourful soundscape, the imagery and plot he weaves place him among some of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy writers of our time.
In “100 Years,” from Typhoon’s third studio album, White Lighter, Morton paints a bleak and downright disturbing picture of a post-modern dystopia. After he (or his character) falls asleep under a tree and sleeps for 100 years, he wakes up to find the world changed. “I awoke in the future,” he says, and what a future it is.
“Entire cities of old folks’ homes / In every household a hospital bed for everyone / They laid me down and they stripped my clothes / They gave me a shirt that says / ‘I survived my own life.’”
Morton draws a painful link between society’s emphasis on survival over living and his own struggle with mortality. In doing so, he flings the listener into a different world. Yet this world is torn down just as quickly as it is created, giving way to introspection. “I told you / I told you / I have nothing left with which to hold you.”
Morton’s lyrics are an interesting blend of metaphor and hyperbole. Some are realistic, if overstated (like living for 100 years, even in sleep), but are combined with fantastical elements. What comes out of this mix is fantastically deep world-building, spiralling even out of a few short lines.
He continues this world-building on his solo studio album, What Will Destroy You, bringing a post-apocalyptic flavour to tracks such as “Survivalist Fantasy.” This is a song that explores his complicated relationship with intimacy in a sort of ‘last man on Earth’ scenario.
The scene is set by the lines: “The traffic lights are out and all the phones are dead / Don’t answer the door for anyone.” In a world with a zombie apocalypse obsession, these lines strike a cultural chord. At the same time, the lyrics aren’t intrinsically apocalyptic, and can bring to mind real world scenarios of riot and revolution.
“Before we lost the power I think the television said / Stay inside your homes wait for help to come / That must have been weeks ago / Now I’ve got this sinking feeling / You and I are the only ones.”
Again, we see world-building that takes familiar themes and alienates them so that they make more sense surrounded by the fantastical. Who hasn’t thought, when fighting with a partner or struggling to communicate with a loved one, that the world is coming to an end? Who hasn’t questioned the value of living when there doesn’t seem to be any life in their years?
Morton writes stories that are both close to home and entirely other-worldly, which makes for a complex lyrical experience. Being familiar and yet new, it’s definitely worth a stumble through one of his worlds.
- “100 Years” from White Lighter (by Typhoon)
- “Artificial Light” from White Lighter (by Typhoon)
- “Survivalist Fantasy” from What Will Destroy You (by Kyle Morton)
- “Poor Bastard” from What Will Destroy You (by Kyle Morton)
“Caesar/Reed Road” from Live at the Crystal Ballroom (by Typhoon)
-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski