James Murray: Floods Returned
Slowcraft Records

There are at least two ways of listening to (and by extension, reviewing) James Murray's latest release: you can either do a track-by-track comparison between those on Floods Returned and their counterparts on the earlier albums; or you can simply give your attention exclusively to the reworks, the idea being that the release should be broached as a collection in its own right. I've opted for the latter, and not because of laziness or apathy. As I write, Floods (2012), The Land Bridge (2013), and Mount View (2014) are no more than an arm's length away, and it would be easy enough to revisit the Floods trilogy for comparison's sake. But my belief is that, whatever the similarities and differences between the originals and reworks, Floods Returned should be taken on its own terms and so in that spirit will do exactly that. (For the trainspotters out there, Murray's helpfully coupled the original track title with the new version in all nine instances.)

Murray's in a particularly productive phase at the moment, with material surfacing at a faster clip than usual. Late last year, Eyes to the Height saw the British composer return to Ultimae Records with a stellar ambient-electronic set, and then, only months later, make a Home Normal appearance with a rather more minimal take on ambient-electronica with Killing Ghosts. Now, in keeping with the release pattern of the Floods trilogy, the forty-seven-minute Floods Returned comes to us by way of his own Slowcraft Records imprint. Par for the Murray course, the material is deeply atmospheric and luscious in textural design, so much so that listening to it on a high-quality system or via headphones is recommended so that all the music's nuances can be appreciated. No instrument details are included with the release, but suffice it so say whatever he used to generate the originating sounds has been thoroughly transformed by extensive processing treatments.

Like other gifted electronic composers, Murray possesses an uncanny ability to maximize the emotional potential of the sounds produced by his instruments and electronics, such that the softly shimmering “Greenlands (Green Lane)” and “Every Ringing Bell (Riverbed)” not only dazzle the ear but touch the spirit with their melancholy character. During “Small Gestures (Becalmed),” mournful chords played on a church organ (or at least what sounds like one) dominate, whereas “Swift Returns (Departure)” has a grainy quality that intensifies the nostalgic effect. Elsewhere, slow-motion cascades flood the aural spaces magnificently, the music billowing majestically and rendered into a high-intensity blur. Without being a rehash, Floods Returned is, in short, classic Murray, a collection that in production design and emotional character is very much complementary to the material he's issued in the past.

June 2017