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.
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.