Alexi Murdoch – an artist of consequence

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I started this blog a week ago with the promise of jazz, and lots of it. Fear not my faithful readers (both of you!): I will deliver. That being said, after taking a look at Florence and the Machine and Lungs last week I think it`s worth pausing to analyze the contemporary pop scene for just a little while longer, just long enough to talk about singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch and his debut album, Time Without Consequence.

I think we live in a day and age that does not offer singer-songwriters enough fertile ground to grow their precious art, what with a music industry that violently assaults the ears with ready-made industry-grown “entertainers” backed by a million-dollar machine for aesthetic purposes. Now, I`m not saying Beyonce doesn`t have a nice voice or, sometimes, even borderline pleasant songs (I`m trying hard to think of one other than “Halo”, but I`m sure there must be many) what I`m saying is that when I listen to Beyonce my listening experience is, at the same time, invaded by the fifty other people that help craft the Beyonce brand. I mentioned “Halo”, which I think is an ok song, well…Wikipedia lists Evan “Don`t Call Me Humphrey” Bogart and Ryan “I`m The Guy From OneRepublic” Tedder as writers alongside Beyonce Knowles herself which somehow makes me think they just walked up to her one day with a piece of paper going: “Here kid, sing this!”

Now, I know this is how the music industry works in general and I`m not picking on Beyonce (I`m really not) but it does make it feel all the more refreshing listening to a young artist like Alexi Murdoch and knowing that what you get is not only the voice or the guitar-playing of Murdoch but the entire thought process and labor associated with the music, from the first glimmer of inspiration to the finished product. Everything you hear is the odyssey of Alexi writing and developing his music, and what soothing and beautiful music it is.

I talked last week about Florence Welch and her penchant for maximalism and putting on a show as complex and elaborated, from the way she uses her voice down to her clothes and the occasional symphonic orchestra,  as her managers and record company could ever possibly allow before they`d start thinking about staging an intervention. Well this week, I present you with a singer at the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum, a man for whom anything other than complete simplicity seems to be as foreign as rapping about growing up in the hood.

Alexi brings to the proverbial table nothing more than his voice, which seldom changes register, and his guitar, which seems to be looping the same sounds over and over again but, by the end of the meal, the listener feels completely “full” and utterly satisfied. Upon finishing any of the songs individually, or the entire album completely, the listener feels a sense of accomplishment, and there`s a unity about the record and every song on it which lets one sense that the porridge was “just right”.

To top that, there`s an interesting story to this guy and, before I get into it, I want to talk about how I stumbled across his music because it will be relevant. The first I ever heard of Murdoch was on a show called Stargate Universe (a short-lived piece of sci-fi brilliance which I mourn to this day), where his song Breathe was, in a very inspired move, used as the closing tune of an episode called “Air”. If you`re curious, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgJFEDqLBTQ. Enjoy!

As it turns out, this would have been the most likely place I could come across Murdoch’s music as Time Without Consequence is, according to Wikipedia at least, one of the most licensed albums of the last decade. Here`s a list of shows where one might come across Alexi Murdoch songs: The O.C., House, Prison Break, Ugly Betty, Dirty Sexy Money, Ladder 49, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, Without a Trace, Stargate Universe, Everwood, Brothers & Sisters, One Tree Hill and the list goes on.

It turns out that, upon having his music heavily promoted by a DJ in L.A, Alexi was courted by various record labels. Faced with every musician`s dream-come-true Alexi proceeded to promptly give the finger to the music industry and just ignore all the attention he was being showered with by the record companies. You see, unlike many other artists, Alexi Murdoch actually cared about the product he was being associated with so he opted instead for complete creative control and decided to just release and promote his music independently. Now, I`ve heard lots of artists talk about being rebels and sticking it to the man but here`s the gentle-natured Murdoch quietly doing exactly that and without the aid of four-letter words, tattoos, face-makeup or yelling dementedly from the top of his lungs as clueless band-members attempt to make as much noise as possible (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Hv0tsvpyU)

And thus the finished product reflects his character and nature in a way that I don`t think would have been possible had his music been watered down by the often ill-fated creative process. As an article on CNN Entertainment puts it:

Too often, once musicians sign the dotted line, their music is usually sent down a production line to be tweaked, remixed and injected with additives and preservatives, and packed and delivered. Once it arrives in stores, its lifeblood has been sucked dry, to the point it somehow sounds like everything else, even though MTV loudly proclaims it’s “Spanking New.”” [i]

Well Alexi Murdoch will have none of that and so what we get in Time without Consequence is an honest musical delivery by this very introspective artist. The album opens with All Of My Days, which sets a tone that never really changes throughout the record but which somehow manages to not sound repetitive even though it seems that the bulk of Alexis music is based on repetition, as evident from his lyrics:

Well I have been searching all of my days
All of my days
Many a road, you know
Ive been walking on
All of my days
And Ive been trying to find
Whats been in my mind
As the days keep turning into night

Well I have been quietly standing in the shade
All of my days
Watch the sky breaking on the promise that we made
All of this rain
And Ive been trying to find
What`s been in my mind
As the days keep turning into night

Some songs barely have any lyrics to speak of, like the 5:50 minute long Home where the lyrics when do we really get to go home, first you must go walking on your own and maybe then we already are home are just repeated many times to create the stanzas before closing the song with the somehow very in-its-place sounding Row row row your boat/ Gently down the stream, or the song “12”, probably the most intense outing, which features perhaps the most complex instrumental arrangement, with a guitar tune reminiscent of Marc Ribot at his more “tame” but with barely any discernable lyrics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9rckkkpVeY). The effect of this minimalist approach to the written word though is not a negative one at all. Far from feeling as though something is “missing”, one gets the sensation of listening to a mantra, which adds a lot of depth and power to the words.

In his quiet way, Alexi takes on the philosophical challenges that are mandatory for every great songwriter, be it love – as in Song For You (“You think no one understands/Listen to my hands”) and Love You More (“Love you more than anyone/Love you more in time to come” – again, just two lines for this song) – despair in  Wait (“Cause everywhere I seem to be/ I am only passing through/ I dream these days are about the sea/ I always wake up feeling blue/ Wishing I could dream of you/ So if I stumble, and If I fall/ And if I slip now, and loose it all/ And if I can’t be, all that I could be/ Will you? Will you wait for me?) personal revelation – All My Days (Now I see clearly/ It’s you I’m looking for/ All of my days/ Soon I’ll smile/ I know I’ll feel this loneliness no more/ All of my days/ For I look around me/ And it seems He found me/ And it’s coming into sight/ As the days keep turning into night/ Now even breathing feels all right) and Orange Sky (“When I am alone/When I’ve thrown off the weight of this crazy stone/ When I’ve lost all care for the things I own/That’s when I miss you, that’s when I miss you, that’s when I miss you/ You who are my home/  You who are my home/And here is what I know now/ Here is what I know now Goes like this.. /In your love, my salvation lies/ In your love, my salvation lies…”) and he does not disappoint. Though far from a long-winded Tom Waits or Mark Knopfler and with shades of Nick Drake (but nowhere near as similar to Drake as most people seem to think) Alexi is kept to himself and does not verbally express more than is needed to complete his song, a quality I had at first distrusted but had in time come to greatly respect.

In closing, I think of Alexi Murdoch as one of the best musical discoveries I`ve made in the past five years, 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”. And if I were Dylan or Cohen, I`d let out a sigh of relief, knowing that the art form I treasure so seems to be in the safe hands of this modern-day troubadour and, surely, many more like him.

Watch out for: other bands covering his music in the future

Best track: Something Beautiful (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfJAh6hrCzw) – I know it`s not on thew actual album but, then again, it`s on no album and it`s a track that`s jusat too good to miss.


.[i] http://articles.cnn.com/2003-12-01/entertainment/hln.hot.hit.alexi.murdoch_1_alexi-murdoch-orange-sky-music?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ


Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

Mindguard Cover

Lungs by Florence + The Machine – a breath of fresh air

(image taken from http://everythingintime.com/articles/florence-welch-was-obsessed-with-tk/)

While I rarely venture into contemporary pop music I must make an exception for Florence and The Machine. This British band was first brought to my attention by my wife, who is a great admirer of the group and especially of lead singer Florence Welch. Though I normally try to limit myself to instrumental music, due to the fact that “anything too stupid to be said is sung” (thank you Voltaire!) I could not refuse my wife’s invitation to check out their recent hit single What the Water Gave Me (especially after torturing her with Marc Ribot’s Rootless Cosmopolitans – an acquired taste she unfortunately never really acquired).

Perhaps if I had listened to the song on the radio or would have just been exposed to the studio version I might have merely enjoyed it, but my wife was smart enough to play me the live version from Later with Jools Holland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhA9ow0ZFE so as a result I was absolutely enchanted. The song is creepy enough to warrant attention by itself but it’s the charming voice and powerful stage presence of Florence Welch that jumps out at the first time listener and offers a take on “pop music” that to me personally feels fresh and exciting.

At the very least What the Water Gave Me is a song that an intelligent and experienced listener can feel very comfortable with and also has the quality of engaging a younger and perhaps less patient audience (Try playing David Darling’s compositions for cello on the radio at 15:23 PM and just listen for the sound of people switching channels).

So I decided to further pursue the band and naturally started with their debut album Lungs.  The music of Florence + The Machine started with the friendship and collaboration of Florence Welch, the vocalist, and Isabella Summers, the band`s keyboard player, percussionist, producer, DJ and all-around Jill-of-all-trades and, in time, has added a few more members, namely: guitar player Robert Ackroyd, harpist(!) Tom Monger, bass player Mark Saunders and stand-out drummer Christopher Lloyd Hayden (keep an eye out for this guy!) but one immediately sees that the band is built as a vehicle for the voice and talent of Florence Welch whose intense and sensual presence dominates the record and whose powerful stage persona and at the same time delicate demeanor is the driving creative force behind the band and distinguishes it from other pop/rock acts building for it a fan-base that is immensely, almost fanatically dedicated.

Of course, the lead singer is almost always the face and “personality” of the band but Florence brings to that role an earnestness and raw emotion that is refreshing for a pop scene that usually has bands either stay conservatively within certain well-defined bounds or completely stray away from the beaten path for the love of being “different” – to the point where this leads the most unfortunate results, all in hope of catering to the lowest common denominator.

Florence offers the listener a sound with a distinct and honest identity, her love for aesthetic maximalism shines through but never so much as to turn her efforts into a gimmick (though the harp is right on the brink of that sometimes, only inches away from being overused)

The harp is actually the first thing the listener gets to hear when playing Lungs, the instrument opens the very intelligently placed first track Dog Days Are Over, probably the closest one to becoming an anthem for the band (thanks for this insight go out to my wife Ioana) Dog Days is very representative of what one can expect from this album and a very charming and inviting opening track (Happiness hit her/like a bullet in the back).

Florence, at certain times sings, other times she yells in a voice that is at the same time very complex but also refreshingly un-polished. Light-years away from a clean-cut Celine Dion or Mariah Carey,  Florence offers a voice that adapts to the momentary need of the song. She will sing, she will coo, she`ll whisper and sigh and, if “necessary” flat-out scream from the top of her lungs (hello Tom Waits!). To me, the effect of this is that, as a listener, you don`t get to become bored with her voice and it never gets irritating (kudos to Florence for that one).

Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) follows Dog Days and continues in the same manner while adding to that the first taste of typical Florence symbolism (enter: king Midas) but the record`s excellent start hits a bit of a bump with I`m not calling you a liar a tune which, in spite of not being bad, and with some interesting lyrics, fails to live up to the albums powerful beginning. This in fact seems like a pattern on the record, with very complex and  well-developed songs at times interrupted by underwhelming and sometimes flat-out disappointing ones (I`m looking at you Hurricane Drunk). Luckily, the former greatly outnumber the latter and, as a whole, the album offers many excellent compositions and this from a generous thirteen tracks. Yet, I couldn`t help wondering how tracks like Hurricane Drunk and Girl With One Eye (not necessarily a weak song but terribly misplaced on this record) ever made it past bonus tracks. Luckily, there`s plenty of excellent ones to choose from as the album continues with Howl (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SLoOzTMjC8) a very catchy tune with interesting lyrics (a werewolf analogy of all things) which one wouldn`t be surprised to even hear at a club somewhere. In fact, if clubs were playing more songs like this I think I`d start getting out more. I mentioned before that I try to steer clear of non-instrumental music most of the time because of the often ridiculous lyrics, and one could easily imagine how comparing an obsessive, overbearing lover to a werewolf could have easily fallen in that category in the hands of a lesser writer but here`s what Florence does with it:

If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me
I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free
Screaming in the dark, I howl when we’re apart
Drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart

If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me
I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free
The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound
I hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallowed ground

My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in
You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to howl

And here`s my favorite:

Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers
It starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters

 

This is without a doubt a young girl’s song and yet it is delivered in a way that makes it enjoyable even for someone outside its “target” audience and I bet most people could relate to obsession in one form or another. This seems to be the fortunate case for most of Florences’ compositions as her carefully studied lyrics prevents any listener from feeling too distant from a certain song or too awkward in relating to the lyrics (I remember my wife listening to Katie Melua a while back). The theme continues with Kiss with a fist, a sexy, playful and fast tune, an instant charmer not to be taken literally (I broke your jaw once before/ I spilled your blood upon the floor/ You broke my leg in return/ So let`s sit back and watch the bed burn/Love sticks, Sweat drips/ Break the lock if it don’t fit/ A kick in the teeth is good for some/ A kiss with a fist is better than none/(…)You hit me once I hit you back/You gave a kick I gave a slap /You smashed a plate over my head/ Then I set fire to our bed). If not interrupted by the strangely misplaced Girl with One Eye the album would have continued directly with another instant charmer namely Drumming Song, a track that delivers just what it promises and every time you get to see it live you get to fully enjoy the talent of Chris Haydn, who, aside from Florence herself, I think gets to shine most on the record. In fact, I feel like his drums and her voice complement each other brilliantly on the album with the drums being the one instrument which, even when standing out, does not compete with the singers voice (think We Will Rock You). And Haydn delivers every single time, so I was very disappointed to see many live shows where Flo`s penchant for complex performances (orchestra and choir and fancy outfits) often leaves out Haydn`s drums.

 

 Between two lungs follows and is a lighter tune and perfect setup for the album`s absolute highlight Cosmic Love  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EIeUlvHAiM) This more mature song is, in a way,  a preview for the band`s next album Ceremonials a collection that, although more complex and “grown-up”, also lacks a bit some of the freshness and vigor of Lungs. If I were to recommend just one song off this album though, especially as an introduction to Florence and The Machine and their music it would most certainly be Cosmic Love. The song is a perfect blend of everything this band stands for, from the lead singers powerful voice and stage presence, to Haydn and his perfectly executed drums (watch out for the “beating heart” when Florence says I heard your heart beating/you were in the darkness too) and the spice that is Mongers harp in just the right amount to add flavor without distracting from the track as a whole. Cosmic Love is an excellent track on an album that is already very good (perhaps just some uninspired song placement away from being great) but certainly, as a debut album, Florence Welch and her band have every reason to be proud. From Cosmic Love onwards the record loses steam with My Boy Builds Coffins, Hurricane Drunk and Blinding Light only to end on somewhat higher (if a bit stranger note) with their take on You`ve Got The Love, the 1986 ode to the Savior by The Source and Candi Staton, perfectly covered by Florence but with an odd placing as the closing track, leaving the listener wondering “oh Lord, what`s the use”.  Perhaps the track would have been better suited for Ceremonials and I`m sure Lungs as a whole would have been much more powerful had it ended with Cosmic Love which could have also been a better predecessor to Ceremonials and its opening track Only if for a Night. As a whole, Lungs is highly recommended, it comes as a breath of fresh air to the musical “genre” that needs it most nowadays. Florence Welch and her Machine have managed to create a recording with a distinct personality that comes off as honest and passionate and luckily, not heavily influenced by the sometimes dubious choices in music (see Rihanna, Lady Ga-Ga, Beyonce, Dizzy Rascal) of the easily star-struck Florence.

In closing, I say give this band a try, the music has lots of energy, Florence is smart(!) and charismatic and the Machine will not disappoint.

Best track: Cosmic Love (though it`s hard to chose from the many great songs)

Watch out for: The lovely Florence Welch and drummer Chris Hayden

The Music and Myth of…

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog: The Music and Myth of….

All those who know me have probably heard by now about my efforts to become a writer. From publishing poetry almost fifteen years ago in the yearly anthologies of the German literature circle Die Stafette , to my first “solo” collection in 2004, Das Ende der Kindheit (or Childhood`s End), to my graphic novel (sans the graphic) The Recovery from a year ago (no doubt right now on the to-do list of the Editor-in-chief of Dark Horse Comics) I’ve constantly flirted with the written word in one way or another and have entertained the thought of becoming a full-time writer for a few years now. Alas, that has not happened. Not yet anyway.

But, much like any other skill, this one too must be honed lest it deteriorate with time. That being said with a sci-fi novel on the way and a contract from Dark Horse bound to materialize any day now I decided to practice my writing skills by creating a blog. And although the temptation to wax philosophical about a variety of topics is strong, I`ll just stick to the one I know best, namely music.

I have been an aficionado of a variety of musical types for many years now and, though my interest is mainly instrumental Jazz, I do branch out into other “genres” (under quotation marks because it is a term I really don`t believe in – but more on that later on) so I thought I might write about records and bands that I love, hoping to spark an interest in their music or at least help promote their “myth”. Thus, in the following weeks, I invite you to read my articles on: Jan Garbarek, Anouar Brahem, Al DiMeola, Amina Alaoui, Alexi Murdoch, Marc Ribot, Florence and the Machine, The Jason Domnarski Trio, Tom Waits, Miles Davis, Lucien Dubuis, Manu Katche, Al Jawalla, David Darling, Nils Peter Molvaer, Kim Kashkashian and many, many more. The “genres” will vary, the styles will vary and so will the instruments and the occasional voices but the one constant will be the esthetic value of the music brought forth by these gifted artists, each outstanding in his or her own way. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts and I encourage you to comment, review and especially recommend and I hope that, together, we`ll create a “think tank” dedicated to this most delicate of art-forms.

One thing I would like to specify though is that my blog will not be dealing with music intended solely for commercial purposes; this is not a place for Lady Gaga, Skrillex, PitBull or musicians of such nature. While I know that the essence of what constitutes art is debatable and I`m sure that many people would jump at the opportunity to make a case for the aforementioned superstars and their artistic value, I do have one golden rule when it comes to music:

If it was created with minimal effort for maximum financial gain I do not consider it worthy of serious discussion.

That being said, let`s start discussing music. Please tell me your opinions and, most importantly, recommendations. On my part, I`d like to start with the music and myth of: