Grey McMurray: guitars/oud/fender rhodes/effects/voice
Caleb Burhans and Grey McMurray are two of the busiest and most accomplished musicians working in New York’s emerging experimental/indie community, equally at home in the role of composer, songwriter, producer, singer, or multi-instrumentalist. Their third release as electronica-laced violin/guitar duo itsnotyouitsme is the culmination of a long journey that began with their 2008 EP walled gardens, a loop-heavy debut with imaginative studio craftsmanship. By contrast, the duo’s second release, fallen monuments (2010), features live recordings, and now their third and most recent release finds McMurray and Burhans back in the studio with a double-disc of new tracks bearing the title Everybody’s Pain Is Magnificent.
For an album peppered with so many electronic sources, much of Everybody’s Pain sounds surprisingly earthy and organic (as suggested by Allegrea Rosenberg’s striking cover art, which features roots and branches framed in a kind of pixelated, psychedelicized landscape). It’s a good fit for an album in which electronic sounds and processing are frequently used to conjure textures that seem almost more “alive” than the sound of traditional acoustic instruments.
Some of the most interesting moments on the album likewise occur when the electronics come into contact with seemingly incongruous relics of the past. The album’s opening track (The Snake of Forever) explores a sound world influenced by early music, marked by slow-moving, chant-like violin lines suspended in a cavernous crypt of reverb. The simplicity of materials is balanced by a sense of space and distance. Recognizable elements—the grim sound of the harmonic minor scale luxuriating around its raised leading tone, a deceptive cadence to the warm, autumnal sound of the VI chord in minor—overlap, but these individual elements don’t line up as we have come to expect them to, lending depth and distance to a simple texture. Gardens of Loss is conceived in a similar vein and is one of the album’s standout tracks, a constantly evolving tapestry of ancient and contemporary sounds that expresses a fully imagined soundscape in only a few repeated brushstrokes.
Old Friends, Lost Relatives (the album’s third track) begins with equally unadorned acoustic guitar chords—just right for the track’s rootsy flavor, and another example of an implied distance from a few pungently connotative gestures. Bluebird (In My Heart) provides for a more extended exploration of acoustic guitar textures, with a simple but irregular strumming pattern set against a mounting backdrop of feedback. Meanwhile, Mammoth Super Column to the Towers Of begins with perhaps the most overly “electronic-sounding” stretch of music on the album, with glitch skips and snatches of heavily processed sound.
Vocals don’t emerge until the end of disc one (which is labelled—in what is undoubtedly a vinyl homage—”side a”), and their appearance in Little Wish feels less like the intrusion of a new element than simply another timbre to be incorporated into the instrumental texture. In the album’s final track, Always Look Up (Always Look Up), these subdued vocals mount a slow rise that hangs out over a tonic drone that pulses with affirmative constancy, finally revealing an organ-like sonority with a whiff of a plagal cadence and its host of benedictory associations.
Clocking in at 88 minutes, Everybody’s Pain manages to fuse a variety of influences to itsnotyouitsme’s essentially ambient/postrock sensibilities and succeeds as a mature and polished successor to the duo’s first two efforts. It is highly particular music, with a focused aesthetic point of view and an ear towards eccentricity, which could be either appealing and discouraging depending on one’s preconceptions and taste. Yet it’s hard to deny that Everybody’s Pain is an impressive culmination of Caleb Burhans’s and Grey McMurray’s musical vision, with lessons gleaned from the stage as well as the studio.