Even if you don’t own Alexi Murdoch’s EP, Four Songs, or his first album, Time Without Consquence, you’ve likely heard his music on TV, in movies or driving the emotional core of a car commercial.
The fireside guitar and whiskey-with-water mid-tenor made his songs irresistible to music supervisors, even if some of Murdoch’s songs might roll amicably in one ear and out the other. But his third attempt, Towards the Sun, feels immediately different. It was recorded, for the most part, in a single Vancouver night on his 2009 tour, filling out the tracks months later with the help of Beirut’s Jon Natchez and Kelly Pratt and The National’s Kyle Resnick. Just as the pastoral setting of the Big Pink house gave Bob Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes an organic nonchalance, the on-the-road recording of Murdoch’s newest album imbues it with intimacy and longing.
The album opens with its title track, Towards the Sun, a fitting name for a song that drifts up over the horizon like a sunrise. Piano keys walk with Murdoch’s rhythmic picking, his vocals rise and fall like mid-Atlantic hills. It has the distinct feel of a band warming up, a welcoming invitation to a one-night stand. It’s the addition of the band that lends this album its markedly fuller sound. Pratt and Resnick’s horns provide an underlying echo that shadows the stories of unable to be requited love and familial loss spread across the first four tracks. Track five, “Through the Dark,” is a turning point.
It’s a midnight song, the ache of the road in his voice, the kind you imagine penned on the side of a nowhere stretch, and it works as a perfect segue, a climactic moment between the rising action of the first four songs and the denouement of the last two. The record closes with the uninspired “The Light (Her Hands Were Leaves),” which will feel like a very familiar song for fans of the last album, and the expansive “Crinan Wood.” The farewell track is the musical equivalent of a goodnight phone call, conversational vocals and plucked strings that carry us to the end of what must have been one lonely night in Vancouver.
Towards the Sun’s haunting and beautiful seven songs clock in at roughly 37 minutes from start to finish. It’s a record that carries the weight of the road on its narrow seven-track shoulders—it never quite gets anywhere, as if a reflection of Murdoch’s state of mind while stuck away from home. I don’t imagine I’ll hear it on an episode of Gossip Girl anytime soon, but that’s just fine.