Nick Murphy seeks catharsis on ‘Music for Silence’

When Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker) dropped his stage name in lieu of his real name, he sought for change. Change in sound, aesthetic, and connection both with his fans and with his artistry and persona. Chet Faker was “always a project”, he tells NME, but having played under the name for almost a decade, “it stops feeling like a project, it’s just my life now.”

Tracks like “1998” and “Talk is Cheap” cemented Chet Faker’s sound – synth-heavy electronic music with hints of R&B and soul. Chet Faker became a household name in mainstream electronic music. But he needed change. Rather than questioning what was “cool” in terms of his name and music, he began to question, “What do I like?”, which began to open doors for the artist, musically. Run Fast Sleep Naked was the artist’s first full-length endeavour as Nick Murphy, following four years of solo travel and self-reflection. Still, it didn’t inform his musical intentions and fell short of his capabilities.

It came to a point of a fervent desire to drop what he was best known for as a vocalist, and to turn towards what gave him catharsis: the piano. “I was like, ‘I have to get this thing out of me,'” he tells InsideHook referring to his plan to release a solo piano record, “It was becoming kind of stagnating, getting heavy … I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. I just booked it, and I had my piano shipped up. I knew I needed it.” The result was Music for Silence, an ambient music album recorded in an “old empty church” where Murphy slept for a week with “a piano and the pigeons in the rafters.”

Ten tracks lead us through a soundscape of a man and his piano, isolated from the chaos and contingency of the New York buzz he is often surrounded by. Murphy spoke of the record, “I thought id broken something inside my chest and all I wanted to do was get as far away from everything as possible.” He continues that “Everything is so dense these days Its important to take some spiritual rest when you can.”

Murphy establishes atmosphere and introspect with the opening “And You Don’t Even Know You Hurt Me”, which continues on in the following track “Blood And”. “For Oscar” finds hints of Murphy’s past as Chet Faker, dropping subtle jazz harmonies in quiet spaces between sustained chords. Likewise, his familiar tenor voice features in the vocalisation of “Tongue (Lift 4)” as well as “Salt of the Earth, Pt. 2”.

Other times, Murphy displaces himself from his earlier work in randomised chords that find harmony between themselves (“Blood And”), in an ostinato under a drone of ethereal synths and wandering tones (“Rabbit Feet”), and in oscillating notes in rapid succession (“Waterfalls”). The effect is the mimic of what ambience is often defined as: the atmosphere of a place as well as its surroundings sounds such as birds, water, traffic – otherwise, music reenacting familiar sounds to fill the silence.

Ambient music fans will recall Brian Eno’s Music for Airports (1978), which Eno described in his liner notes “as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint”. Given the similarity in sound and title, it’s quite possible that Murphy took great influence in Eno. Music for Silence nonetheless captures an individualised portrayal of quietude in sound, building a world for Murphy to share with his audience in a positive light.

“I work for the Universe” aptly ends the album on an affirmative note, with changes in harmony towards major chords, more melodic movement. It’s the way we hope all dark times turn, akin to the happy ending we look for in movies. “These recordings healed me,” Murphy says, “and I wanted to share them in the hope some of that healing might pass on to a listener.”

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