Sunday, November 13, 2011

Alexi Murdoch: Time without Consequence (2006)

(Zero Summer)


What is it about Alexi Murdoch that's so inspiring? In the abstract, he's a bit of a Nick Drake knockoff in aesthetic style if not thematic attitude. It comes down to pop, maybe; what Murdoch's work consistently is, fast or slow and reflective or melancholic, is appealing at base level. Perhaps no current singer-songwriter so deserves the irrational adoration he inspires; there is no way to define just why and how his breathtakingly beautiful music connects so flawlessly, and who knows if there's some level of mania that makes those of us under his spell so subservient. But the truth is that the songs on this debut album and, perhaps even more so, on the earlier EP 4 Songs constantly -- despite their pervasive sadness -- teem with life and suggest a coalescence with the listener. It's subjective rather than manipulative, a key difference between Murdoch and the '70s legends that founded the singer-songwriter genre.

Emotionally, Murdoch's work bears closer resemblance to R.E.M.; compare, for instance, the ethereal family-strewn "Orange Sky" (miles better on the EP than here, I'm afraid, this version too fast-paced and Mrazian) to Automatic for the People's "Sweetness Follows." The same estrangement lament, the same pall of death, the same cloudy redemption. Better yet, how "All My Days" plays out as such a lovable piece of Americana despite Murdoch's fundamental Britishness -- the travelogue, the lost-world personal journey feel of it all; and how the sadness of "Blue Mind" seems steeped in a kind of resignation that can only signify the shedding of a long depression. But one feels it isn't so personal for the singer himself. He's a showman. All of the bloody injections of life and love experience are brought in by the listener. It's the Thalbergian variation on folk music; what you get out of Murdoch's music is what you bring to it.

What I'm getting at is that this is immensely comforting music, in a time of loss or just a certain mood or whenever, and Murdoch arrives at this in such a selfless (cynics would say commercially viable) way. The purity of this romance and loss, recorded so effortlessly, is note-perfect in its lonesome undercurrent. But does Alexi Murdoch suffer for his art like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith or some other solo iconoclast? Likely not, though who can say for sure? The music is too giving, too lacking in idiosyncracy and telling detail. But that doesn't mean it isn't sophisticated. The key is that we bring the sophistication -- we bring the suffering. Yeah, I don't know how he does it -- and he's still doing it -- but this is a force apart from convention or scenestering; it's just bloody gorgeous. It's Hollywood desperation that works, never superficial, always moving, always perfect for Those Times. And to his credit, Murdoch has scarcely harnessed the power all this gives him, refusing the many aveues of entrance to the L.A. scene he was offered. He remains content to stand strumming and let us flock to him. One suspects he won't have any trouble for a good long while.

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