I discovered Alexi Murdoch, like a lot of people, by obsessing over the Garden State soundtrack. (Yes, I know “Orange Sky” wasn’t featured on the official soundtrack. But you and I both know that everyone obsessed over finding out what song was playing during the hamster burial scene—and that obsession continued as we listened to that song over and over again when we finally did find out what it was.) A few years before that movie ever came out, though, Alexi Murdoch independently released an EP titled, Four Songs, in 2002. The EP generated a lot of buzz, selling over 50,000 copies on CD Baby (the site’s highest selling record ever) and getting numerous major labels pawing at Murdoch’s door. Most likely to their surprise, he turned them all away and has continued to release music independently and on his own schedule (his last record, Towards the Sun, came out way back in 2009).
Murdoch’s first release features mostly songs that would appear on his first album, Time Without Consequence, four years later. “It’s Only Fear” makes its one time appearance on this record as its delicate opener. The song drifts and sways like two lovers making their way to bed. Another image comes to mind of opening the first bottle of wine during the first breaths of Friday night after a long week of drudgery and adult life. Like the entire record itself, “It’s Only Fear” brims with early 2000s nostalgia, which spills over into a rush of tears in remembering the past as it stumbles into the chorus with a slow breakdown. The contents of the song itself are comforting, as Murdoch attempts to explain to a lover that what she’s experiencing is “only fear” and that the terrible feeling will eventually pass. For those that did purchase this record when it came out, I can only imagine the type of experience this first song offered as an introduction to Murdoch and his soothing music.
Before seeing the track list of Four Songs, I figured that “Orange Sky” would be placed as the final track like on Time Without Consequence. But, oddly enough, it’s the second song on this EP and a little different from the album version most people have heard. For one thing it’s a lot slower—dragging along in a way that makes the song even mellower than it already was. (Or, I guess, paradoxically, the album version is a little more upbeat than the original.) It’s more somber, reflective—absent of the bright slit of celebration that the album version offers with the quicker tempo. Regardless, the only other differences that come from this version are slightly different lyrics (“sister” being said more so than on the album version) and a more prominent use of slide guitar. “Orange Sky” is still the jewel, though, of this EP and was the major song that gathered all his followers who still sway to it today (myself included).
“Blue Mind” and “Song for You” aren’t all that different from their album counterparts that would appear four years later. “Blue Mind” is a mid-tempo ballad that chucks along with Murdoch’s muted clicks between each chord. It still retains its optimistic essence that makes any listener smile. The closer is “Song For You,” the quickest song on the record, which breathes a ‘chill’ aspect with the transition into each chorus (which is similar, in spirit, to early Coldplay—sleepy with graceful layering of hush instruments).
If anything, these early versions of songs that would be re-recorded later find their value in long-time fans listening back for nostalgic reasons, and new fans digging through Murdoch’s discography to hear how these songs originally sounded. What it displays, moreover, is Murdoch’s dedication to crafting honest songs and not rushing the process. Hell, it’s been about six years since his last album came out. But why rush such perfection? Four Songs, as with the rest of Murdoch’s discography, captures feelings of solemnity—a sense of looking back and remembering past moments of our lives that were beautiful and seemed to give our existence a sort of meaning. For me, they hold a distinct quality of lost youth in post-90’s, early 2000’s America that is now often viewed with a wishful eye that those days would somehow return. The sense of hope the previous decade had before the big economic downfall in 2008/2009, (or supposedly the sense of hope we thought we had back then), is wrapped around the soothing voice of Alexi Murdoch and his folk ballads that were uniquely his own. And though many of us wish to return to that ‘Garden State-era,’ I’m sure we’ll find something like it in the coming years again—and Alexi Murdoch we’ll be right there with us to create new moments and memories that we can hold onto with the same wishful eye for the rest of our lives.