James Murray – Loss (Eilean Records, 2015)


Loss is one of life’s inevitabilities, something that we will all have to face up to at some point or another in our existence. It’s a hardship that comes crashing down, tearing us away from a loved one or perhaps a precious place and leaves us by the wayside attempting to fill the hole that’s left behind. Murray’s Loss is a drone saga that invokes the sensations of these painful experiences and ultimately the progression that each of us makes in overcoming these difficult moments, moving from stunned desperation to resilient stubbornness and then seguing into optimistic and brighter leanings once the troubles have passed and the wounds have healed. As it stands though, Murray’s seamless and spontaneous creations are esoteric in their construction and it’s proved rather difficult to avoid rambling into the ambiguous in describing their presentation.

At the beginning we have “Find”, an emergent mass of grey, probing drone sequences,  exploratory tendrils of dullened sound that creep out of its miserable and lonely heart. It’s cautious and sad, miserable right to its core and rightfully hesitant in its outward movements in an attempt to fill the void that has opened up in its life, peeking out of its shell to find some morsel of hope to cling on to in these hard times. And find something it does, since successor “Hold” seems to cling on to some faded yet comforting memory in its unhealthy darkness, drawing the drones a little deeper into the well of its depression but sating itself with the ancient crackles and pops of this distant fragment. It slowly unwinds, knowing it’s unable to sustain itself and ultimately collapses into the void before long, slumping back into its despair.

“Endure” is made of somewhat sterner stuff, however, as Murray attempts to pick himself back up and fight, but it’s a painful and difficult process. The rapidly rising fugue is piercing by harsh and prodding intrusions, emotional spikes through the more consistent melancholia that blankets the piece, and yet there is a new fire and strength not-before-seen that grinds things forwards, pushing through with gritted teeth before shaking things free and decaying rapidly into lightened, insubstantial airs at its conclusion. Thus it makes way for the calculating and forward leaning “Forecast”, the longest and perhaps most visceral piece present as it cruises on initial uncertainties on a current of deep drone, supplemented by a more radiant and optimistic backfield miscellany. Its endless 12 minute span seems poised on the edge, a knife-edge turning point in our journey that keeps us hanging in mysterious thought, waiting to see what will unfold beyond its sight.

It’s in the two closing tracks that we’re allowed to begin the process of leaving this business behind us; “Certainty” cements the feeling of optimism that “Forecast” touched upon, exuding a careful and hesitant warmth that tests the waters, just making sure the ground wont fall out beneath our feet again just as we’re making our way back to the surface. The certainty of our loss has come to be realised and there’s a level of acceptance that has finally been overcome that is crucial to our future wellbeing. Closer “Loss” then is not the morose and tortured finalé that it seemed like it might have been at the beginning, it is a piece that has fully come to terms with the situation and carves out thick movements of shining, glowing light to float itself out and away from the quickly retreating darkness, the period of fear and anxiety since passed and the return to normality at hand.

Murray’s carefully crafted emotional journey is not one to be simply read about in review, it is one to be felt and experienced, immersed in. Describing the careful layers of synthesised drone textures and their measured evolution across the album and within each piece is a task too great for any concise writings, their sonic qualities and unquantifiable esoteric sound better heard rather than mushily defined; sufficed to say that Loss is a potent and haunting release that follows in the footsteps of many melancholic creations but does one of the finest jobs in encapsulating the stages of grief and loss I’ve heard.