Album Review: Charles Murdoch - 'Point'

Album Review: Charles Murdoch - 'Point'

Felix Garner Davis

The wisps of mystery surrounding Charles Murdoch, mostly due to a hiatus after the release of his debut EP Weathered Straight in 2013, serve the black-clad arrival of Point well. As the reverberating shroud of opener ‘Nothing For You’ swells, it becomes clear that Murdoch’s quietude hasn’t involved a loss of focus. Rather, the refined tapestry of Point hints at a slow, pedantic process, and the rewards are very audible.

It’s easy to draw a thread between Weathered Straight and Point. As an aside, the legacy of Aphex Twin’s awesome Selected Ambient Works series seems to beat somewhere in the skeleton of Murdoch’s earlier work — was the titling of Weathered Straight an homage to ‘Weathered Stone’? Despite the Brisbanite’s more approachable focus, I can hear these albums, in all their reverb-soaked glory, in his debut. I can hear them in Point, too.

Murdoch does an excellent job of collating his influences in an appreciable way. The linearity of his sound is one of its most effective aspects, and his discography, while limited, has already fused into a luminescent pool of jelly that draws from ambient music, future pop, downtempo soul, techno, house and electronica.

Murdoch’s major concern, in the face of this concoction of genres, is groove; while his formal experimentations are interesting, they are rarely more than embellishments and don’t comprise the core of the music on Point. Take ‘Frogs’, the second cut on the album, for example. This is Point’s most accessible moment. Soft synths balloon beneath an assured drumbeat while Wafia and Oscar Key Sung croon in tandem, their vocals interweaving and arcing around the stereo field. Altogether, these primary components are executed with panache, but it’s a safe blend.

This isn’t a criticism so much as a warning: Charles Murdoch isn’t concerned with demolishing boundaries and manufacturing jabberwockies on Point, so don’t expect the music to revolve around abstract textures or calculated dissonance. Instead, look to appreciate the integration of these elements at the fringes of each song, peppered atop carefully-arranged grooves.

'Point' is a class act, composed, organised and undoubtedly fretted over at length by a promising homegrown talent.

These grooves are synthesised over the course of the track listing, which confirms that Murdoch’s ear for linearity lends him a confident grasp of progression. Point is well structured: the fact that even its shortest momentslike ‘Back To It’, which clocks in at three and a half minutes — neither stagnate nor hastily mash variations together demonstrates this.

Additionally, the songs on Point evolve in a way that is nuanced but not subtle to the point of approaching the thin wrinkle between restraint and banality. They’re not predictable, either: instead of littering the album with traditional verse-bridge-chorus chains, Murdoch curates an array of independent vocal spatters. They are both linear and nonlinear, and the lyrical component of Point is more akin to free-verse poetry than pop songwriting.

And Murdoch doesn’t lean on his vocalists, either. In my opinion, two of the strongest moments on Point arrive in the form of entirely instrumental compositions: track three, ‘Straws’, and track seven, ‘Wash’. The caveat is that they both feature rather prominent vocal samples, but Murdoch’s handling of the accompanying instrumentation is slick enough that these looped snippets, which would otherwise sound entirely monotonous, operate as welcome ingredients, drenched in effects, panned and dynamically controlled to make way for a plump synthesiser whenever necessary.

Speaking of, that sequence at 2:37 in ‘Straws’ makes me want to breaststroke through a vat of maple syrup. Damn.

As the liquid chords of ‘Privacy’ fade, leaving naught but a tail of delay and an odd clicking sound, I’m convinced that I’ve just listened to an album that took a lot of consideration. Point is a class act, composed, organised and undoubtedly fretted over at length by a promising homegrown talent. Its versatility is noteworthy, as it rewards both quiet listening and noisier live settings, and its graceful treatment of instrumentation, groove, texture and space is quite hypnotic.

Charles Murdoch is one to watch.