a closer listen

James Murray ~ Heavenly Waters

Water is a long standing theme in ambient music. From Michael Hoenig & Manuel Göttsching’s Early Water to William Basinski’s Water Music I & II, the concept of water—as an agent of movement and stasis—parallels that of the pure, fluid makeup of the best understated experimental composition. UK based electronic-ambient producer James Murray is no stranger to the concept, setting it smack-dab in the middle of his latest effort, Heavenly Waters.

Despite Murray’s forthright allusions, his music is anything but heavy-handed. Throughout the album the listener is taken on nine celestial voyages, each exploring a different constellation in the Heavenly Waters cluster. The sound design is pristine, radiating in a crystalline clarity that seems to resonate beyond the scope of the treated guitars and pianos that shaped them. The printed package is graced with a star map of Eridanus, acting like that final ‘click’ of a combination lock that opens the floodgates from which Murray’s Heavenly Waters flow.

“Columba” starts out in a familiar stream. A piano gliding atop a fluttering bed of electronics eases us in, tells us that we are close to home. Any journey, however, is not without its troubled waters, and Murray’s turn more hellish than heavenly on tracks like “Pyxis” and “Puppis,” whose drones embody The Waters of the Abyss, and harken to the mysteries that lie at unknowable oceanic depths. When gazing at these stars, people of ancient times saw the ship of Jason, but they also imagined that same ship trounced by the ocean waves.  Ultimately, we’re only shown a mere glimpse of this dark realm, as Murray always steers us back to something more hopeful. And maybe, in some abstract sense, these are songs about hope, about never losing one’s sense of home, no matter how lost we might seem or how rocky the waters might get.

With his Floods triptych from 2012-2014, and his Floods Returned  (a remastered compilation from the Floods sessions) released this year, Murray has continued to expand the shores of his aqueous muse. With Heavenly Waters, those shores now rest among the stars, beckoning the listener to go ahead and make the journey.  (Adrian Dziewanski)