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Release date: 4.2.21
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As a young suburban teenager, I can succinctly remember the feeling of empowerment I unearthed one winter day on a moderately traveled county road listening to “Last Splash” by The Breeders. I felt blissfully alive for the first time in a while. There’s a line in the sand of isolation - a mirage of giddiness and terror out in the great wide open of intrepidly being your true self. Imagine an icy cold day with four lanes of highway and wonderfully peerless sounds blasting out of your speakers: as universal as it is deeply personal. The moment by moment choice to sit with the dark and let yourself live your life with a true sense of wild and unbridled hope, can look like a radical one. We’ve all found ourselves at that crossroads. A blurry yet demanding choice to make about how we’re going to subsist.
Access, the second album by Major Murphy, out April 02, 2021 via Winspear, is an album born out of being at that crossroads. It’s also, without question, an album to blast at an unruly volume to soundtrack an experience one might have standing at that crossroads. The Grand Rapids, Michigan based band returned to Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana to record between late 2018 and early 2020. It’s an album that’s remarkably cohesive - a striking relic in an age where ardent and true “album-making” is a fading art form. In nine songs, it somehow takes a listener backwards and forwards at once, reckoning with intrinsic anxieties while conceptualizing a fantastical and vibrant happening, soothing in its familiar, occasionally childlike tone. Jacob Bullard sings “Close your eyes / Fireflies rise / through the cracks in your mind” on the track “Real” as a recounting of teaching his young son to breathe through his nose. On “Flower” he laments missing his son and his partner and bandmate Jacki Warren, singing “I’m away, I’ll be back soon / Like a sunrise, like a waxing moon / I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming through”. Behind the sturdy and poetic architecture lies a story of new parents, navigating uncertainty and seeking a sense of agency in the new unknown.
On “In the Meantime”, Bullard expresses the timeless anxiety of recent parenthood with all the contemporary tension of late capitalism peppered in for good measure. “When the whole world crumbles down, I won’t be lost / I will evaporate and turn into a fog / I wonder where I’ll fall / In the meantime, I’ll survive” sung in perfect harmony with Warren feels as timely as it does enduring. Written in the wake of the terrifying experience of their son suffering from lead poisoning, the palpable and shared catharsis between Warren and Bullard juxtaposes gracefully over a melody that feels both airy and weighted down at once.
This theme of uneasiness and grappling with a wearisome volume of responsibility continues on “Unfazed”. Bullard sings “Lord knows I’m begging just for a fresh start / But I feel rather vulnerable when I come apart / I know it’s never just a matter of heart / so I peer into data on an empirical chart”, weaving two contrasting gravitational pulls together, a somewhat downhearted realism spun in with a guileless sense of hope. It reads like a hidden scroll, a sacred capsule for someone who hasn’t given up, someone trying to proactively seek the agency to have it all.
On the album opener and title track “Access”, this tone of multi-faceted outsider-ism is set with the first line. “Something in the way that I want to be part of it / Like every single day there’s a world to be uncovered” tees up the song as a conduit for the grand and complex structures Bullard builds throughout the album. It’s as much a personal plea for patience and humility as it is a pep talk for setting the bar high and working hard to ascend.
Bullard and Warren, along with bandmates Brian Voortman and Chad Houseman made the choice to track this record individually, to a click track, layering ideas one on top of the other. The choice is notable not only because it’s a departure for them, as they have previously tracked everything live, but because it creates a textured atmosphere of pro-idea, hyper-creative jittery warmth. Recorded by Mike Bridavsky and Ben Lumsdaine, the sonic spirit of the album prevails as an effervescent restoration of classic, heavy rock’n'roll sounds. The album passed through several sets of hands while being mixed, ultimately landing back in Bloomington with Brivadsky, Bullard’s clear and unwavering vision for the album remaining and concluding very much intact.
In five years, the band has evolved from three jamming roommates into the four piece it is now. Members Bullard and Voortman met Warren while they were opening for Jacki’s former band the Soil & the Sun. Bound by a love for bands from Wings to Junip, the three started playing together regularly, plucked their band name out of an extraterrestrial themed book, and with the help of Winspear, got off the ground releasing two home recorded EPs in 2015 and 2017. The band’s debut LP No. 1 was soon to follow in 2018. Together, with the help of longtime collaborator but newly minted member, Chad Houseman, Access became the band’s first attempt at a more deliberate and conceptual creation.
On Access, Major Murphy makes a laudable case for pushing forward against a pervasive resistance. The things that hold us all the tightest are often hardships felt commonly or even universally. Bullard’s decisive individualism cuts sharply through a gargantuan wall of perceived isolation, the result being an album that is as identifiable as it is atypical. It’s an enthusiastic study on broadening the scope of introspection. It’s an excellent companion for standing at a crossroads.
–Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee)