The New Classic Folk
It’s fun to root for the underdog. No one could have ever predicted that a slow-burning jazz-pop album with a sultry chanteuse could sell over eight million copies domestically, much less sweep the Grammys with an Album of the Year win to top it off, but Norah Jones did just that. Some little romantic comedy about the upcoming marriage of a young Greek woman didn’t seem like box-office blockbuster material, but when My Big Fat Greek Wedding ran off with over a quarter billion dollars domestically and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, the skeptics were silenced.
Enter Alexi Murdoch.
Here is a man who is not a particularly talented guitarist. He finds simple melodies and stays with them, sometimes grooving them out to the six-minute mark. His voice is more speak-singing than real singing, as if he knows his pipes aren’t all that strong. To top it off, he’s not that great of a lyricist, never really giving into cliché but never crafting perfect off-the-cuff one-liners either. He’s a melancholy folk-pop crooner, and that’s all. Yet there’s something—that indistinguishable something—that makes him stand out, that makes his songs resonate, and enables his album to hypnotize you with its warm, lush, and moving ballads.
His full-length, the self-released Time Without Consequence, has been a long-time gestating in its own right. In 2002, the London-born balladeer was approached by KCRW’s influential DJ Nic Harcourt, asking for a few songs to play on the nationally syndicated Morning Becomes Eclectic. The response was immediate: a four-song EP (creatively titled Four Songs) was born, and it became available online at CDBaby. Before long, the EP became the single all-time best-selling album on the indie retailer’s website. Then Zach Braff wanted to use the song “Orange Sky” for a little movie called Garden State. Alexi let it be used in the film but not on the soundtrack. Then The O.C. wanted to use the same song, and he let them put it on their soundtrack. Soon it got licensed to car ads, and it gradually became ubiquitous, but it got no radio play and therefore was not overkilled. Finally, after years of ups and downs with labels (Time Without Consequences was initially going to come out on Razor & Tie), he put the album out himself. Given all the drama he experienced in just a few years time, Alexi sounds remarkably calm.
The wonderful thing about Time Without Consequence is the same attribute that made the similarly veined Damien Rice album O such a folk-pop treat: the truly timeless and accessible nature of the songs. Your father could find the opener “All My Days” just as charming as when Nilsson was breathing life into the acoustic guitar again, and your little sister will recognize him as The O.C. guy, automatically vindicating him as cool and relevant.
I have been searching all of my days, /
Many a-road you know I’ve been walking on all of my days, /
And I’ve been trying to find what’s been on my mind, /
As the days keep turning into night.”
These opening lyrics no doubt ring of cliché, but he delivers them with such sincerity that it doesn’t seem to matter. “Breathe” is instantly-digestible folk-pop, “Love You More” is one of those mournful love songs that chirps with optimism no matter how hard it’s raining outside, and “Blue Mind”—one of three carryovers from Four Songs—is the best feel-good song about doing nothing put out this year.
Yet the real disappointment with Murdoch’s otherwise-excellent full-length is, surprisingly enough, his rerecording of “Orange Sky”. Dropping the earthy atmospherics of the original, he adds drums, ups the tempo, and ultimately loses the emotion. Fortunately, the rest of the album more than makes up for one small interpretive mishap. This may not be the most defining folk album of the new millennium, but Alexi Murdoch’s career is off to one hell of a start.