James Murray: Floods
Slowcraft Records

James Murray keeps a rather low profile, which means that his music undeservedly receives less attention and appreciation than it otherwise might. Arriving as it does three years after Where Edges Meet (Ultimae Records), Floods, the second solo album by the London-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, is an accomplished collection of pastoral, guitar-based electroacoustic music that, dedicated to “the waters,” wears its heart on its sleeve in more ways than one. Issued on his own Slowcraft Records imprint, the recording takes its inspiration from the flood plain where Murray grew up and where twin rivers, their levels increased by rainfall from nearby Welsh mountains, rise each winter and eventually break their banks, resulting in flooded pastures and hedgerows. Consequently, the album material is designed to acknowledge in equal measure the waters' destructive potential but also its regenerative power.

Having said that, Floods concentrates less on violent catastrophe and more on a natural, cyclical event that's become an indelible part of Murray's memory and one looked back upon with affection. As a result, the album's seven settings are largely soothing and meditative, though the title track is comparatively more brooding than the others. A wistful and nostalgic mood permeates the becalmed opening piece “First Falls,” after which the material blossoms more fully during “Greenlands” when a dark undercurrent is illuminated by the radiant sparkle of ruminative keyboard melodies. The mood obviously darkens during the later “Greenlands Lament” and deepens into an even more sombre lamentation during the closing “Hold Your Breath.” 

The material comfortably situates itself within the ambient soundscaping tradition associated with labels such as Hibernate, Home Normal, and Under The Spire, and, like some of those labels' artists, Murray meticulously builds his pieces into richly detailed and ponderous sound-paintings filled with acoustic guitars, keyboards, electronic textures, and field recordings. Given the subject matter, it hardly surprises that field recordings form part of the sound palette. Even so, Murray uses them judiciously to augment the musical material, not compete with or dominate it. Sounds of the natural outdoors emerge as part of the fabric of a given piece, often doing so almost subliminally. Murray founded Slowcraft Records in order to present “unhurried artworks of intensity, honesty, and depth,” and Floods certainly makes good on that promise.

January 2012