Occasionally, you will get an artist who sounds exactly like another artist. Even more occasionally than that, this will not be a hindrance to enjoying the music. That said, I'm just gonna put it out there: Alexi Murdoch sounds like Nick Drake. He takes everything from the timbre of his voice to the wistfulness of his lyrics from the tragic folk singer, but he manages to differentiate himself from Drake in enough ways to make Towards the Sun a wonderfully inviting album.
Though he's an Englishman, you can hear quite a bit of American rustic tradition running through Murdoch's compositions, at times even sounding like a less bombastic Edward Sharpe. Murdoch and his finger picking are the main attraction here, certainly, and attentive ears will pick up a shade of pastoral fluidity that recalls John Fahey at his most relaxed, but he knows when to add a short piano riff or some banjo to give his songs a fuller sound. It does what soft music should do, which is engage without being overbearing.
If there's one word that I would use to describe this album, it's "comfortable", in both the way Murdoch sinks into his songs and in the way it makes the listener feel. Though he may sound like Nick Drake, this is no tribute or ripoff: Murdoch means every word he says, and make no mistake, they are his words. When he uses words like "wherefore" in his lyrics, it sounds as much like something that was used as the best word to compliment the melody as it does like something Murdoch would say in casual conversation. It's due to this entirely natural delivery that he can sing lyrics like "Mother, you are a bird" and not sound completely ridiculous(trust me-you have to hear it to believe that he pulls it off).
Still, there is a darkness to this album that doesn't register immediately, and it's a subtlety that rewards repeated listenings. "Slow Revolution" is the most immediate example of this. You notice the last line, "And all of this matter soon won't matter much anymore", and then you realize that while you were engaged with the pleasant tone of the song you didn't notice that many of the lyrics were downright apocalyptic. Towards the Sun has a running theme of sudden ends and uncertain beginnings, of being pulled in different directions and walking where your heart tells you, simply because your brain doesn't have any better ideas. The swirling isolation mixes with the general warmth of the music to create an atmosphere that is at once peaceful, charming and desolate.
In a year that has been generally underwhelming, Towards the Sun has been my first completely satisfying listening experience, not because of its trendsetting ambition but due to being a smart, passionate reinterpretation of familiar themes. Alexi Murdoch's previous album, Time Without Consequence, came out in 2006. If his next release doesn't come out until 2016 it'll be a loss for us all. Murdoch is the sort of artist that you want others to take notes from, until you remember that there's a reason that he seems to be the only person who can make this kind of music work these days. Nobody else is so willing to sound like somebody else if that's what it takes to make entirely unique music.