Peter Murray

Peter Murray

BandRockSinger/Songwriter

Intelligent, thoughtful, melodic pop that rocks. High standards of musicianship and production.

Band Press

Not Lame Records Review – Not Lame Records

Canadian import and a major find for Not Lamers. A Surpreme one, trust us. Fans of Wisely, classic Owsley, Michael Penn, Pat Buchanan, The Dotted Line and Ross Rice will not be let down by this in the l east bit. It`s clear Murray is inspired by Squeeze, The Rembrandts, Ron Sexsmith and XTC as their sounds are here but each song is about finding lasting appeal. The superlatives are many. "It`s a proper singer/songwriter album, with a heavy dose of XTC/Squeeze/Elvis Costello - all those great early 80s songwriters - and tunesmiths like The Rembrandts/Lit/Fountains Of Wayne etc. The songwriting, production, playing and packaging are all top notch - it`s amazing to think that it`s a self-produced album. I guess the quality of the musicians on it is a testament to Peter`s standing in the Toronto music scene - everything is impeccably played, the tunes are incredibly strong - if it gets in the right hands, he`s guaranteed a couple of radio hits off this. Really, it`s a must for fans of intelligent alt-guitar singer/songwriter stuff. From the ultra-catchy punky tracks like the opener `Gen X DJ on E` and `Ears Make Wax` to the more mellow almost Neil Young-ish tunes like `Murray Vs The Ants` and `Skydiver Friends`, the album is packed with great hooks, instantly memorable stuff."-Anthropicollective. "Ants and Angels is consistently entertaining, ultra-musical, and a worthy addition to the Canadian power pop canon!" - Don Breithaupt, author of Night Moves: Pop Music in the Late Seventies, Precious and Few: Pop Music in the Early Seventies, and the forthcoming addition to the 33-1/3 series, Steely Dan`s Aja. Simply, seriously, one of the finest high-brow, sophisticated pop releases of 2006 and big, big time Extremely Highly Recommended!!

Intelligent Pop review – intelligentpop.com

When Peter Murray’s terrific, driving, bright-distorted-guitar, pop-rock song “Generation X DJ on E” cranks up, you immediately have two thoughts: (1) this is kind of 5 years ago, kind of Blink-182; and (2) but this is way better than Blink-182. Great lyrics, amazing, and yes, sophisticated pop melody. Hell, you’d have liked Blink-182 if they’d made music this good. Maybe if pop radio doesn’t notice how smart the whole thing is, they’ll play it, the same way they played Ben Folds’s almost-as-good “Rockin’ the Suburbs” a few years ago before they realized the joke was on them.

Then, when the also-catchy and slightly weird “Skydiver Friends” comes on, you think Murray isn’t so much a smart Blink-182 but maybe a new Cake. Wry and ironic, a little too-obviously intelligent. Extremely talented, but it’s starting to become obvious that Murray is so intent on not taking himself too seriously, that like the very good but always unsatisfying Cake, he’s just not willing to say anything too pithy, lest ultra-hip 24-year-old pseudointellectuals and the second-rate critics they grow up to become accuse him of too much sentimentality.

Then the beautiful, haunting, and entirely serious yet not at all trite meditation on being alive, “Lucky to Breathe,” comes on…and you realize you’re absolutely wrong about Murray. It’s too late to accuse him of being too serious, for you laughed your way through “Gen X DJ,” and admired his wry smarts on “Skydiver Friends.” By the end of the album, when Murray has morphed almost completely into Roland Orzabal, channeling the introspective spirit of the Tears for Fears singer, especially from his brilliant and ridiculously underrated master opus Raoul and the Kings of Spain, all you can do is sit back slack-jawed and hope against all hope that the world is ready for this kind of pop music again. If there is room in this world for another Roland, another Sting, another Peter Gabriel, another Simon and Garfunkel—in other words another artist entirely definitive of the Intelligent Pop genre, then world, meet Peter Murray.

If I may dwell a moment on TFF’s Orzabal: TFF fans know that many of their albums contain a single very down-tempo song in which there is not much of a “pop groove” and possibly no drums at all, full of pregnant pauses, introspective themes, and yet still great melody. These songs might be thought of as experimental, except that Orzabal made them a staple of his style. Think “I Believe,” from Songs from the Big Chair, “Famous Last Words” from The Seeds of Love, and, most relevant here, “I Choose You,” from Raoul.

That’s what Murray’s “The Ark” is, and it’s possibly as great as Orzabal’s best work. The experimentation with an ultra-sophisticated Cello part, arranged and played by Kevin Fox, works brilliantly, and leaves you gasping for air. Wow.

But I’ve jumped to song 10. Along the way, you are entertained, moved, made to laugh, cry, and always sing along. “Murray vs. the Ants” is an ultra-catchy mid-tempo song that’s hilarious for its amusing depiction of a paranoid Peter Murray losing his mind, waging a war against ants, but still tragic for its subject matter. The seriousness is all in the music, but sanity is precious, and Murray intends to say so in the most nuanced way. You will be singing the chorus to yourself for days.

That is, if you can get the beautiful melody of the verse of “Where do you go” out of your head. This sophisticated melody represents the kind of innovative pop composition that we’re constantly urging songwriters to push themselves to achieve. It’s sophisticated, entirely unexpected, and yet thematic: it’s no less memorable for its winding path. Murray understands the meaning of a “melody’s narrative arc.” Mostly, his have strong, satisfying arcs. Like great stories, they have a beginning, a development, a conflict, a twist, and a resolution that’s both less expected and makes more sense than the melody you thought you were going to hear. It’s all accomplished in a 10- or 15-second passage. The list of songwriters who do this on a regular basis is very, very short.

Finally, Murray’s lyrics are deeply thoughtful. Maybe too much so. They’re fantastic, but not as effortless as they’ll be in 10 years. Is this a criticism? Maybe, but it’s like criticizing an artist for not having gotten where he’s going yet. You have to enjoy genius as it grows. But if you’re wondering whether the guy can use concrete images to say something about experience, read this: “Ears make wax, eyes make tears, drinking makes me older/Eyes make tears and I don’t know why/Why do they have to make me cry?” In “Ears Make Wax” Murray seems to have found the perfect way to illustrate the realization that he is not in control of his emotions—the most basic realization of the human experience, perhaps, and one which most people fail to discover before they die.

Obviously from these comments, Ants and Angels is primed for a run at our top 3, and is the first record we’ve heard in a while that has a realistic chance to break the stranglehold on the top 3 that Inara George, Nick Alan, and Busbee have held.

But like those magical works, Murray’s record is not flawless. Murray does not reach his standard of melodic inventiveness on every song, and on his way to becoming Roland Orzabal, he glances back at Blink-182 more times than you’d like. It’s when channeling X-rock that he becomes his least interesting.

Murray, a perfectly good singer, is still not as amazing and dynamic vocalist as Orzabal, or say, Sting, is. Can he become one? Possibly. For now, his voice can verge on sounding a little ordinary, sometimes a little reminiscent of Todd Rundgren, his delivery style a little bland, as though he’s not yet settled on how he likes to phrase things. As he releases future works, he’ll have some discovery to do in this area.

Finally, given the utterly grandiose ambition of this album and its absolutely pristine recording quality, it’s disappointing that Murray confines himself entirely to the most basic sounds of a small rock ensemble from songs 1 to 11. It’s all guitar, drums, bass, and Fender Rhodes electric piano, and not much else. The couple of times he throws you a morsel of cello, you scarf it up and crave more symphonia (and more use of large acoustic spaces), but it’s just not forthcoming, either in acoustic or electronic form. Damn. A number of the less pop-rocky songs could have been beautifully embellished with some kind of progressive orchestral drama, to great effect. If Murray felt a compulsion to “stay small,” “stay intimate,” or “stay raw” in deference to some kind of purist indie-rock aesthetic, then we’d say that is the wrong impulse for these heavyweight, downright important songs. “Gen X DJ” is a blast, but overall, Peter, you are no post-modernist. Let the strings play; just write something interesting for them to play, not something corny. (But you know that!)

Oh yeah, if you guessed Peter Murray was from Canada, you’d be correct. Once again, from north of the border comes a sophisticated gem. Totally inspiring.

George Graham review – George Graham/ WVIA FM

Ever since the Beatles made an art form out of clever, sophisticated pop, generations of musicians have been following in their footsteps. The Fab Four embodied the unique combination of creativity, musical adventurousness, and a feeling for old-time British music hall. And when added to the classical background and skill as an arranger and producer that George Martin brought to the table, the result will live through the ages.

That was, of course, 40 years ago, and pop music has moved in a lot of directions since. But for many rock musicians, it's hard not to be smitten by the Beatles, to marvel at what they did from an art and technique standpoint. With appreciation comes influence, and ever since the emergence of the Beatles, there has been an almost constant stream of performers and bands to draw upon the Lads from Liverpool to one degree or another.

This week, we have another in this line of what I call "clever popsters," artists who absorb the upbeat melodic complexion of the Beatles, and groups who followed, and also bring to bear the musical and sonic creativity, and multi-layered approach that sets this kind of music apart from most commercial pop. The CD is by Peter Murray, and it's called Ants and Angels.

Peter Murray is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist who worked mainly as a sideman, playing bass with artists like Ron Sexsmith. He was in a band called Surrender Dorothy that toured internationally in the 1990s. He is also the author of a popular instructional book called "Essential Bass Technique." This is his first CD under his own name. He describes himself as a "perfectionist" and says that the songs on Ants and Angels "represents a huge amount of reflection and musician exploration." And that seems to be evident on the album.

While there are a few bands that are carrying on this kind of music these days, it seems that most of the "clever popsters" currently at work tend to be solo artists who labor in the studio, playing multiple instruments and overdubbing at great length. Peter Murray is one of those, playing guitars, bass drums and various other instruments, but he also is joined by a variable cast of supplementary players adding instruments in most of the categories, and often taking the role of guest soloists. Murray himself is at the center of things vocally, and in the tradition of the Beatles and this genre in general, he sings in an appealing high tenor rock voice, which he puts to good use, often overdubbing harmonies.

Another aspect that puts this into the realm of clever pop are the lyrics, which can be lighthearted, on the edge of humorous, and often taking a look at familiar subjects in a slightly idiosyncratic viewpoint, or in some cases, somewhat unconventional subjects.

Leading off, is one of those bits of offbeat creativity, Gen X DJ on E. It's power pop with fun lyrics for the 21 Century. <<>>

Skydiver Friends is a bit more laid-back in sound, and again full of quirky lyrics, lots of musical layers, and things like unexpected shifts in musical mood. <<>>

About the closest thing to a sad song on the CD is Where Do you Go, about one man's so-far unsuccessful quest for a date. Again, musically, it's a reminder of how well Murray has absorbed the values and songwriting techniques of this kind of music. <<>>

That is followed by a song that is almost the exact lyrical opposite: Live Alone, in which the protagonist is seeking to get away from a relationship. With a horn section and the curious addition of a banjo, it's one of the CD's more ambitious, and I think most outstanding tracks. <<>>

Part of the album's title comes from the song Murray Vs. the Ants, a kind of roots rock influenced piece inspired by an infestation of crawling insects. <<>>

Perhaps the most unexpected lyrics come on Ears Make Wax, a very clever celebration of one's body's internal defense systems. <<>>

Another interesting track is Never Easy, whose lyrics are urging optimism while the musical setting, in a rock waltz time hints at more serious-sounding art-rock. <<>>

The CD ends with what seems like an appropriate finale, Heavy Sleeper, a kind of love-departed song, whose ingenious lyrical twist has heavy sleeper leading to "heavy dreamer." <<>> The track goes out with a lengthy, classic, anthem-like rock guitar solo by David Celia. <<>>

Veteran Canadian sideman and bassist Peter Murray's new solo debut recording Ants and Angels is one of those great pop albums that absorbs influences ranging from the Beatles to Squeeze to XTC to more contemporary artists, but comes up with lots of clever and original ideas. So though it certainly hints at the Fab Four and their musical offspring, it rarely sounds derivative, and every one of the eleven songs has something new and interesting to offer, often in subtle layers. It's one of those appealing pop albums into which a great deal of work has gone, that may take several listenings to reveal itself. Even at its surface, it's a bright, fun music. And, conversely, it's also remarkably free from the annoying cloyness that afflicts a lot of this kind of pop.

Our sonic grade is close to an "A." It was apparently, at least in part a home-made recording. The clarity is good, the mix well captures the sonic twists that Murray's arranging puts into the songs, and the vocals sound is especially pleasing. The dynamic range is not bad for this kind of music.

There seem to be more and more artists, forty years after the Beatles, who still look upon them as inspiration for intelligent, creative, multi-layered pop. Peter Murray' CD is one of the best debuts in the genre to come along in quite a while.

Steve Lawson review – Steve Lawson

Peter Murray - Ants and Angels

one of my blog resolutions for this year is to do more CD reviews... You've already had BJ Cole's marvellous 'Transparent Music', and today I got a copy of Peter Murray's 'Ants and Angels'.

Pete is someone I know best as a bassist, having seen him live playing for Ron Sexsmith in London a few years ago, and having jammed with him a few times at NAMM shows in LA over the years. 'Ants and Angels' is much closer to the Ron end of things than the 'jamming with stevie' end of things. It's a proper singer/songwriter album, with a heavy dose of XTC/Squeeze/Elvis Costello - all those great early 80s songwriters - and tunesmiths like The Rembrandts/Lit/Fountains Of Wayne etc. The songwriting, production, playing and packaging are all top notch - it's amazing to think that it's a self-produced album. I guess the quality of the musicians on it is a testament to Peter's standing in the Toronto music scene - everything is impeccably played, the tunes are incredibly strong - if it gets in the right hands, he's guaranteed a couple of radio hits off this. Really, it's a must for fans of intelligent alt-guitar singer/songwriter stuff. From the ultra-catchy punky tracks like the opener 'Gen X DJ on E' and 'Ears Make Wax' to the more mellow almost Neil Young-ish tunes like 'Murray Vs The Ants' and 'Skydiver Friends', the album is packed with great hooks, instantly memorable stuff.

Have a listen to some of the tracks at Peter's MySpace page - and follow whatever ordering instructions are there. Definitely one of the strongest self-produced albums I've ever heard.