The Northern Irish songwriter has crafted yet another complex, groove-focused album that doesn’t sacrifice its playfulness in writing something mature and detailed.
Róisín Murphy has always been a trend setter, even if she is rarely given the credit for it. Her sugary electronica in Moloko came at a time when dance music was seen as a bit naff by some critics and listeners, while her theatrical approach to costuming has had some convinced that Lady Gaga ripped her off. Now, disco-inspired dance music is dominating the charts – but rather than stick with what’s given her success before, Murphy has moved on completely. Last year’s underrated gem, Hairless Toys, was a subtle, explorative project that had Murphy crafting low-key club bangers on one track and eerie ambient landscapes on the next. With ‘Take Her Up To Monto’, she goes even further down the rabbit hole, without looking back to see who’s following behind.
This album shows that we should all be following her. ‘Take Her Up To Monto’ can at first feel obtuse, its weaving melodies and darting song structures impossible to pin down on cursory listen. A few more plays reveal enveloping textures, detailed production and songwriting that only grows more tense with the patience her builds require. Though largely working with the same formula as ‘Hairless Toys’, ‘Take Her Up to Monto’ feels like anything but a re-tread, though the return of long-time production partner, Eddie Stevens adds to a sense of cohesion. The pair’s work together is perhaps the strongest it’s ever been, on an album focused on sound and mood rather than the flashy pop hooks you’d expect from an artist with Murphy’s history.
‘Mastermind’ moves from a still sea of ascending and descending keys, to rigid, clattering percussion, before giving way to a glitzy vocal harmonies and jazzy keys at the halfway point. A fuzzed out dance groove kicks in as the track swells towards a climax’ the organic instrumentation and alien bleeps are fused perfectly. It’s both unnerving and mesmerising as an opener. ‘Pretty Gardens’ is just as sprawling in its approach, starting at what sounds like Portishead in a blender, with plastic strings, xylophone whacks and synth wubs keeping the rhythm constantly off balance. It’s like a showtune on a cocaine comedown.
‘Ten Miles High’ is perhaps the most straightforward cut structurally, but it’s hardly simple. Viceral drum hits cut through the bouncy celestial notes and glam-flavoured guitars. Roisin’s voice is at its most expressive and dextrous where on much of the album it remains cool and distant. She shifts from harmonic coos to swaggering grumbles as the energy ramps up, constantly elevating. ‘Romantic Comedy’ is a clattering, restless banger focused on unsettling more than it is on danceability, whereas the eerily ticking ‘Nervous Sleep’ is an example of how impressive Murphy can be in a stripped back setting; the variety of moods on the album is impressive.
There’s a feeling at a few points, though, that Murphy is perhaps trying too hard to make her audience uncomfortable. The soft lounge-jazz of ‘Lip Service’ reminds of Damon Albarn‘s ‘Mr Tembo’, in that it uses childish glee and an overall weirdness to mask the fact that nothing all that moving is taking place. Elsewhere, the album is full of heart.
At her recent Glastonbury set, Murphy stares towards the audience, draped in a construction worker’s overcoat with censor block sunglasses on her face. “It’s so pleasant to be here, in this sunset… with a lot of glasses, I’ve got a lot of glasses which is perfect!” Throughout the set, she dips into her dress-up box, and pulls out beanies, wedding gowns, moon emoji masks, ‘caution tape’, and other weird things to plaster onto her face. Unlike other pop stars working with garish costuming, the eccentricity fully carries on to Murphy’s music. ‘Take Her Up to Monto/ is just as playful,surprising and baffling as any costume she’s ever worn. Her next outfit change has a lot to live up to.
‘Take Her Up To Monto’ is out on the 8th July via Play It Again Sam.
This Róisín Murphy article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Photo Credit: www.playitagainsam.net