Bay area eccentric and W.m Faulkner descendant, John Murry‘s debut album, The Graceless Age created waves upon its initial European release but can it hold water in the American market after it drops this week?
Our answer is decidedly no but due to no fault of the musician himself. Produced by Sun Kil Moon‘s late Tim Mooney the bulwark of the album contrasts desultory lyrics set against soft, mesmerizing guitar and piano rhythms. Defining it as folk would be a mistake, yet the lush production and almost neurotic attention to detail places the work far beyond the scope of the self indulgent singer/songwriter angle. So where does that leave The Graceless Age?
The album bears a marked but opaque semblance to Wilco‘s revered Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in both style and content. The first several tracks serve as a lullaby, lulling the audience into an intimate relationship with Mr. Murray whose honest to a fault lyrics spare no detail nor emotion in relating anguished subjects. European critics have described the album as noir, and a better description would be hard to come by. Most of the songs offered center around self-destruction through hard drug abuse and a growing chasm of space between Mr. Murray and society as a whole, but throughout the billowing dramatics and tortured lyrics a depth of hope and longing is clearly perceptible.
The Graceless Age absolutely commands the audience’s attention. None the less because of the pervasive audio hallucinatory weaving of spoken word segments throughout melodic interludes and even choruses themselves. These spoken snippets offer much needed redemption to the drear by bringing the musician closer to his audience than the over-production of certain portions would normally allow. The most moving of which, in an album already clustered with emotion, (calling it heavy would be juvenile but there is little to be taken lightly about this work) is a minute plus segment of the musicians mother describing her joy on the day of his birth. It offers an effective balance to counter much of the gloom, surfacing as it were a dynamic on “Photograph,” that might have otherwise gone overlooked.
The latter half of the album offers a sonic departure from the lullaby tone set by previous tracks. The crunching distorted guitar work on “Things We Lost in the Fire,” catches one off guard in its lyric-less gusto, fading out to a backwards loop before segueing to the next track’s dust-bowl show-tune opener. “Penny Nails,” is the only track that could even dream of receiving air time. Its pop sheen and practical if not overt lyrics, “This isn’t love/but I need it just the same,” sung by a luxuriant female vocalist kicks up the bpm’s and offers a fresh perspective to an album you may have been ready to pigeonhole.
I don’t think The Graceless Age stands much of a chance in the American market. It has been called a work of genius and there is some undeniable spark of beauty to the experimentation of mixed media filling out the entirety of the album I’m hesitant to call pure. However, his work may reflect John Murry too closely in this instance. Being ahead of your time can often be a very lonely place.
MP3: John Murry “Penny Nails”