Review: Alexi Murdoch - Towards the Sun

...minimalist musical mantras...
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Alexi MurdochAlexi Murdoch is an artist I’ve written about before. I consider him one of the best “discoveries” I’ve made in the last five years and I still listen to his debut album Time without Consequence regularly. In the meantime I’ve been trying to convert anyone I could to an “Alexite” and must have loaned Time Without Consequence to at least a dozen people. And why? Because, as I’ve stated in my review of his debut album, I believe that he is “an artist our generation can proudly display when challenged by our elders to come up with a reply to the Bob Dylans and Leonard Cohens of the “golden years”’[i]

If you’re not familiar with Murdoch he is a Scottish singer-songwriter famous for continuously turning down lucrative record deals in order to maintain creative control and for producing one of the most licensed records of the past decade (according to Wikipedia at least) the aforementioned Time without Consequence (released in 2006). There is a good chance you might have heard his music on shows like Grey's Anatomy, The O.C., House, Prison Break, Ugly Betty, Scrubs and Stargate Universe (where I have first come across his work) among many others.

Towards the Sun, released in 2011, is his second full album (though, as far as length is concerned it’s just a “notch” above an EP) and continues in the tone of stunning simplicity that marked his prior releases. The album feels more or less like a direct continuation of the first, though, if such a thing is possible, even more laid-back and contemplative, at times just narrowly avoiding “sleepy”.   According to Murdoch, it was not even intended originally to be a record (the songs were recorded with a tape machine one night while on a tour of Vancouver and then recorded in a studio six months later) and, probably for that reason, there is a splendid uniformity that holds it together and also a feeling of continuity from his previous work. Much like his debut album, this one too is marked by a sense of minimalism and simplicity, both in the instruments and the lyrics, which at times feel like musical haikus. He tackles the same profound themes he did on his first record, and in the same manner based strongly on repetition. I like to describe his songs as “minimalist musical mantras”.

There is a sense of composed melancholy to his music, a stoic maturity in his words that is even more evident here than on his first outing. To this adds the voice of Alexi, a voice that rarely changes register and is always warm and soothing. The songs – only seven this time – work very well individually but, as a whole, form a collection of music that is very consistent in its message. In “Towards the Sun” (both the song itself and the entire album) the predominant themes are uncertainty and loss:

 

See the clouds are creeping towards the sun

I'm drifting away unseen by anyone

The light is turning gray, the day is done

The water is cold and heavy on my mind

I dreamed of walking with you but I fell behind

Looking for a rose I could not find”

In “Someday Soon” he says:

“And in the morning I'll be gone

Where for to cannot be told

'Cause in the morning I'll be gone

Where for to cannot be told

 

A mind filled with memories

Weigh me down, my god

 

I love my father and I love him well

I hope to see him someday soon

and in “Crinian Wood” the end of love and the end of life are both pondered with equal gravity:

Music came to me it came across the sound

How you laughed and shone and danced a circle round

As we walked away I saw a shadow on the ground

There were stones inside my pockets that were found

See these knots around my hands around my feet

They would take me down my end for me to meet

And I grow weary of this struggle and this fight

Morning so far off from out here in the night

 

The Night is cold and you must leave me this I know

And empty all the places where we used to go

 

Even when exploring  themes as common  as  “love” Alexi always puts a somewhat sad but charming twist on the topic and never makes it seem as though you’ve heard the words a million times before which seems to be the case for most “love songs”. It’s never straight-forward when it comes to Murdochs’ lyrics. In “Through the Dark” he sings:

 

You need someone to hear you when you sigh

Someone to wipe away those tears you cry

Someone to hold you 'neath the darkened sky

Someone to love you more than I

and in “At Your Door” it’s:

Well you can hide behind your door

And you can leave me kneeling on floor

But I will only love you more

Yes I will only love you more

The album’s undisputed masterpiece is, in my opinion “Slow Revolution”. Though usually very concise, here he offers a song that tells a very complex and very profound story, a story of the cyclical nature of life and  a penetrating thought on the “ashes to ashes dust to dust” destiny of all things:

It’s a slow revolution that quietly turns

As the true word burns

And all of the people marching together out cross the floor

And all that was after is now as it was before

He concludes:

And all of the people marching dancing out ‘cross the floor

And all of this matter soon won’t matter much anymore

The song takes a while getting used to but is a prime example of what happens when philosophy meets music and seems to try and paint the picture of time transcending any thoughts or meanings man can come up with, as “Noah is crazily chipping away at his ark/ While all of us ready ourselves to go into the dark”  the “true word” evades and survives humanity.

Indie cult figure Alexi Murdoch is a bit of a mysterious artist to follow. His body of work consists of less than two dozen songs released in ten years and these songs, veritable gems of songwriting and poetry, seem to have been created more for himself than with an audience in mind. Herein I think lies the fascination that this artist manages to arouse in his audience and I myself eagerly anticipate his next album, which may or may not ever come out.