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Sequoyah Murray
Before You Begin Zara Hedderman , September 25th, 2019 08:12

Since his first EP drew comparisons to Arthur Russell, expectations have been high for Atlanta native Sequoyah Murray's debut full-length LP. Before You Begin more than meets them, finds Zara Hedderman

In the lead-up to the release of Sequoyah Murray’s masterful debut Before You Begin, the songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer was faced with a few factors which contributed to a heightened sense of anticipation. Predominantly founded on the presumption that Murray would have absorbed, as if by osmosis, the songwriting prowess that shaped the extraordinary musical lineage of his hometown, Atlanta Georgia (a central hub for R’n’B and neo-soul, of which Murray incorporates into his arrangements). This was coupled with comparisons to Arthur Russell’s dexterous and acrobatic soundscapes which were formed in light of his Penalties of Love EP and further solidified by his reputation as an underground improvisationalist and his avant-garde approach in shaping compositions.

All of which, as we hear on his latest body of work, are justified.

Even still, a lot for any artist to overcome. As soon as you press play on Before You Begin, it quickly becomes apparent that Murray has been ready for this chapter of his career to not only begin but take off, for quite some time.

On the mesmerising opening track, ‘Here We Go’ we’re met with an operatic vibration which effortlessly navigates Murray’s swirling baritone through the sparse and staggered beat. The richness of the production transforms the harmony into the image of figure skaters gliding with a simultaneously considered and carefree ease across a shimmering ice-rink. Think of a sleeker contemporary reimagining of Torvill and Dean doing the Bolero. This level of elegance and sophistication in Sequoyah Murray’s spontaneous vocals enthrals the listener across the nine exceptionally dynamic songs which make up his formative debut. It’s also a vital aspect of what makes this such an immersive experience.

Throughout, there are moments where his cadence bears a fleeting likeness to Dev Hynes, King Krule, George Michael and Anohni (sometimes all at once). At one point, ‘Is Enough’ even ventures into Grimes territory with its layered celestial vocal harmonies. However, Murray maintains his individualism in how he leaps between sedate arrangements to synth heavy melodies such as ‘Blue Jays’, which takes us into a darkly lit, cyber-sounding world that makes you feel like a pixelated character in a video game. In striking contrast, we’re transported to a lush rainforest in ‘Sunflower (I Love You More)’, which reveals as many textures as you’d find varieties of flora in the tropics. It’s these moments that show us that the magic of Before You Begin which is its natural ability to inspire the audience’s imagination.

From the latter half of the record, where Murray’s spacious soundscapes and pace greatly resemble the tonal depth of field shown in many of Arthur Russell’s compositions, notably ‘The Platform On The Ocean.’. On this occasion it’s ‘Let’s Take The Time’, in particular, which feels like a reincarnation of sorts of the beloved composer. Murray asserts his confidence by showing that he’s comfortable in allowing melodies to gradually unfurl.

“I’m not afraid,” becomes a sort of mantra from the mid-section of ‘Blue Jays.’ Of all the sentiments to pull from this accomplished debut, it stands out for its willingness to embrace the unknown and unexpected because you never know where it can lead you. if you let it, it could take you to a rainforest – or another planet entirely.