Sometimes the voice of a band becomes more recognizable than the music itself. A few that come to mind are Isaac Brock, Hamilton Leithauser and Thom Yorke. Their voices, which are impossible to duplicate, also define their sound more so than the style of music they play. Well after listening to the excellent Minor Lives I would have to say that Gary Murray falls into that category. The moment I heard his voice on the first song I fell in love with it. He has a deep baritone that falls somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Matt Berninger from The National. When he sings you can hear every lyric and every nuance so clearly that it feels like he is in the room with you. The delivery is so well done that word to word or sentence to sentence can carry different emotional variances that resonate with the listener.
It also needs to be acknowledged that the engineers did a great job in capturing this. They obviously used nice mics and preamps and knew how to properly work a compressor. While I could go on and on just about Murray's voice a couple of things need to be said about the music as well. After all, the band is called Gary Murray & LN. While Murray’s voice is the biggest component of the songs the music here is also great. You get a nice mix of sparse arrangements consisting of just guitar such as on “Minor Lives” or more flushed out full arrangements that are open and create a cloud of traveling distant guitars, a nice sounding organic drum kit and minimal bass like on “Hallelujah Shines.”
Minor Lives opens with one of the best songs on the album entitled “ Hallelujah Shines.” Not only are we treated with Murray's voice but one of the catchiest vocal melodies on the album. His voice seeps with melancholy but also feels triumphant. The bottom line is that the song does a great job at combining different emotional landscapes that don't feel confusing but comforting. “Sirens & Fables” is a bit of a downer but also a beautiful song. The band combines nice electric piano and what sounds like sirens (I'm guessing guitars) to create a sound collage that reminded me of being out in the city at night. I was a little bit surprised by the seven-plus minute ambient piece they plopped in the middle as the interlude. It was a cool little piece but dragged on a bit too long in my opinion. The album closes with percussive heavy “The Sound of the Monster” which felt like a bit of a jazz improv session testing out the waters with shoegaze. It was definitely an interesting sound that was held together with the vocals.
This album has very few flaws. In fact, I'm stoked. I found a great band with one of those hard to find baritone singers.
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