James Murray: Eyes to the Height
Ultimae Records

Each James Murray release seems to capture a different side of this resolutely explorative producer, with earlier collections having focused on guitar-based soundscaping, electroacoustic minimalism, and ambient-electronic meditations. Hints of what might stylistically surface on his seventh solo album, Eyes to the Height, were intimated by the recent Ghostwalk EP, which, like the new full-length, brought things full circle for Murray, given that his 2008 debut, Where Edges Meet, also was released on Ultimae Records. That the EP included remixes of the title track itself suggested changes the full-length might introduce when Murray and Kinosura each threaded beats into the title tune's framework. That dimension aside, Eyes to the Height's primary focal point is atmospheric ambient-electronic music of a deeply sultry kind.

Two things in particular elevate Eyes to the Height above the ambient-electronic norm. An over-arching theme is in play for one, with the album described in the press release as “a tender and intimate ten-chapter story reflecting the fragile beauty of life and loss, memory and function,” something reinforced by an accompanying poem whose two stanzas make reference to “the end of our days” and hair turning “from black into grey”; and as important is the sequencing of the ten tracks, which sees the album incrementally build from one piece to the next. Adding to the music's impact is the exceptionally nuanced approach the British composer brings to layering his material and creating differentiation between elements.

That fine degree of nuance is audible from the moment “The Black and the Grey” gently eases the listener into the album's crystalline world with the subdued throb of a bass drum blanketed in early morning mist and glistening tones. Much like someone awakening, the material rises from a condition of semi-conscious slumber and subtly grows in vitality with each successive track. As a result, while a twilight quality remains in place from the opening piece to “Holloways” and “What Can Be Done,” both of the latter feel a tad more energized, as if to suggest clarity of purpose gradually setting in. The patient build continues as the album proceeds, “Particles (Part 1)” even approximating in its design a carefully measured ascent, until a summit of sorts is reached when the uplifting title track responds to the panoramic view with a controlled outpouring of harmony and joy. As Eyes to the Height advances towards its close, the lights progressively dim and one's thoughts drift, lost as they are in memory.

The typical setting is a delicate, lustrous sound painting that sees subtle dabs of piano and washes of electronics melded together to serve a collective purpose. In keeping with the album theme, many of the tracks exude a strong sense of melancholy, the kind that comes from witnessing precious moments passing by too quickly and the desperate desire to hold onto them as long as possible. For want of a better genre description, one would file Eyes to the Height in the ambient section, even if the term only begins to hint at its poise and artistry.

December 2016