There’s a song on Major Murphy’s new album Access that I can’t get out of my head. It’s the fourth of nine songs total and with a runtime of five minutes and fifty-five seconds, it is the album’s longest song. The song is called “Unfazed.”
“Unfazed” begins with a strum of a guitar that exhales directly into a verse groove that slowly billows out of the speakers and into the surrounding room in a Technicolor haze. It sounds like Steely Dan soundtracking Starsky & Hutch, and you’ll never feel cooler than you do while listening to this song in a car with the windows down.
But it isn’t the vibiness of the song’s verse that stays in my head. The song’s chorus, which begins with just acoustic guitar and voice before building back to a more driving version of the full band, is where my subconscious has decided to set up camp.“It’s a sad time we’re living in / not to say that it’s ruined yet” is how the chorus starts, and it’s that last word, “yet,” where the band comes back in.
Major Murphy—who formed in 2015 in Grand Rapids, MI—has built a reputation for their seventies-era McCartney-inspired rock. The band’s principal songwriter, Jacob Bullard, often writes with a wry and introspective tone that paired with the sunny-day dreaminess of the music makes their music feel small and homegrown. At a Major Murphy show, the songs sound like they were written for the exact number of people in the room—no more and no less.
“Unfazed,” by contrast, feels like a song for the world. Its chorus sounds like it could be pulled straight from a charity single from the period of celebrity-artist activism kicked off by George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh in 1971, an era that reached its zenith in the 1980s with benefit concert events like Live Aid. With heart firmly on sleeve, its lyrics recognize pain in the present while pushing for a more hopeful future. The bareness of the acoustic guitar in the chorus’s first half sounds like an invitation; with the full band pickup on the word “yet,” an answer. In sound and in word, this chorus is as earnest as it gets.
I think I’m fixated on “Unfazed” because this type of uplifting tone is so difficult to make believable. The references I listed above—charity singles, Live Aid, etc.—are not exactly the strongest currency in any pop-culture exchange. The type of straightforward, all-together-now chorus in “Unfazed” is something that recalls a time in which people believed rock music could change the world. That idea feels silly to most audiences now, and any overtly hopeful messaging in music now is better communicated when dressed in irony or viscerality.
But as unlikely as it is, “Unfazed” succeeds. Without the burden of the celebrity and capitalist ideals of private-sector aid, Major Murphy is able to make a familiar and staid aesthetic feel life-giving. It makes me believe in things I otherwise don’t and ask all sorts of what-ifs: what if at the core of everything I find corny is something beautiful? What if something as grand as Live Aid could be reliably grass-roots? What if raising a lighter at a concert is actually about togetherness and solidarity and not a performative act in obligation to a commercialized and nostalgic romanticizing of rock music? What if flash mobs are cool?
The last words of the chorus—like its first— are presented nakedly, with only Bullard’s voice singing the words “do you understand?” And every time that I listen, I think that I do.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.