James Murray: The Sea in the Sky
VoxxoV Records

The vision of electronic music promoted by French imprint VoxxoV Records encompasses ambient music and electro-acoustic compositions. Such a vision is well-served by this latest recording from self-taught British composer James Murray, who has released material since 2004 on a number of labels, including his own Slowcraft Records, and who for his seventh album draws inspiration from the skies above and the oceans below.

The Sea in the Sky finds Murray largely operating in ambient-drone mode, never more so than during the opening piece, “Altitude.” Here and elsewhere, guitar, bass, piano, and electronics are blended into gently surging waves of granular sound for approximately nine minutes on average. Like a humming electrical machine whose engine heats up and cools down in regulated cycles, the long-form meditation likewise evokes the movements of cloud formations and ocean currents. Though melody is downplayed in “Altitude,” it's noticeably present in the powerful “Hollows” in the aching, organ-like theme that repeatedly descends in slow motion alongside a low-pitched drone whose wheeze suggests a harmonium or hurdy gurdy. The activity level heats up during the title track, its agitated surface textures suggesting an extreme degree of turbulence that's countered slightly by the repeated appearance of a faint two-note motif that imposes some small measure of calm upon the material.

“Settle” returns us to a state of relative relaxation—a not unwelcome move given the animation of the title track—with soft synth-like utterances punctuating a shimmering electrical array, the effect much like streetlights dimly flickering against night skies accented by occasional lightning strikes. A metallic quality infuses the closing setting, “Then Dissolve,” in such a way that its icy sheets of ambient-drone textures call to mind Eno and Fripp's No Pussyfooting—a subtle homage, perhaps, by Murray? Regardless, there's more to The Sea in the Sky than meets the eye, and, much like his work in general, a deeply focused engagement with the material reveals layers of detail and texture that might escape one's attention otherwise.

November 2015