William Cody Watson – Bill Murray
Posted In: Bathetic Records, Bill Murray, Matt Gilley, William Cody Watson, William Cody Watson - Bill Murray
Comments: No Responses
Everyone has their heroes, and so it’s no surprise that their presence influences musicians. But, far from the occasional song or hidden reference, William Cody Watson’s new LP is an all-out, forty-minute tribute to the titular film legend. There is no avoiding that the album is about Bill Murray, it’s there in the title. The success of the album depends almost entirely on whether the abstractions of ambient music can accurately capture a complex, well-known person. Watson clearly believes that it can.
Each of the two long tracks of the album is divided up into a few movements, in the style of classical symphonies that have worthily been dedicated to great people or things. The changes between movements are more subtle than might be expected of orchestral work though, mostly shifts in perspective, a slight thinning of texture into the droning, downtrodden end of side A for example, rather than obviously new tempos or melodic themes – a trait which makes little appearance here. Although the two sides of the record are untitled, Watson does name these movements. They speak of two moods: some of lofty melancholy, “Burning Harp”, “Lost Again, Demon”, “Stolen Dream”; others of a weary banality at everyday existence, “Walking Home”, “Coffee Still Life”. Watson’s music is beautiful, but unadorned and simple, cleverly able to switch between these two feelings with nothing more than a drop in volume to drag it down to trudge along the streets, or the introduction of one ethereal, shimmering tone to open it up into a grand expanse.
At an exhibition of minimalism at the Tate Modern in London I once saw a sculpture of a fish where the artist (I don’t remember their name), instead of sculpting the whole fish, had focused only on one of its attributes, its sleekness. The result was a fluid form, incredibly smooth and with little shape other than its basic oval, yet it was clearly a fish. It seems Watson is trying to do a similar thing with Bill Murray. He sacrifices the ambition of portraying his entire character in favour of focusing on the weary sadness that has grown throughout his career. This means he necessarily misses out some of Murray’s other characteristics like his humour, apart from the tragi-comic juxtaposition of illusions of grandeur with the painfully mundane. Through this focus he captures the man in a slightly unexpected way, but it is an ambient musician’s way, and it still looks like Bill Murray.
As such, the sounds of Bill Murray are sorrowful. The static waves crack with emotion, lacking the resolve to really mount to any sort of climax. The relatively narrow tonal palette sings of fragility, but not one that makes any effort to grow into anything else, there are no attempts to embrace the rich, wide ranges of many ambient/drone artists – a strangely comfortable fragility. Perhaps in part this is an acknowledgement that Murray might not be top on many lists of ‘great people who should have music written about them’, and I suspect that the self-deprecating man himself would be perplexed at the suggestion. The record is staid, its sadness neither plaintive nor demanding. Its melancholy is more like a filter that lies over everything around whilst the music is playing, a tint that twists even these first blessed days of summer, the sun shining through my window into a washed out reminder of an intangible, apparently better past.
It must be said that, without the massive give-away of the title and Watson’s interviews, it’s unlikely anyone would make the connection between Bill Murray the album and Bill Murray the man. After all, these emotions are not unique to him. But there is more to it than just that we have been told what the album is about and so in our heads we make the sounds fit. Watson has pinpointed a weary, intellectual melancholy that may not be exclusive to Bill Murray, but is undoubtedly an important part of him. Just like many things are sleek, but not all of them look like a fish. The leap of imagination required of the audience is a small one.
- Matt Gilley for Fluid Radio