Róisín Murphy Dictates the Dancefloor With ‘Róisín Machine’
Irish iconoclast Róisín Murphy originated in the ‘90s trip-hop scene, as half of the duo Moloko, and immediately displayed a unique blend of sonics and aesthetics, informed by such disparate inspirations as goth, industrial, and disco, with the latter making its way into the music in only the most subtle way until recently. Murphy released her 2005 solo debut, “Ruby Blue,” in collaboration with vanguard soundsmith Matthew Herbert, and has continued in a daring spirit ever since. She made a major breakthrough with 2007’s “Overpowered,” establishing herself as a peerless club sensation, and steadily accruing a dedicated, cultish fanbase. Her latest album, “Róisín Machine,” her first in four years, is a considerably more streamlined affair than its predecessor, “Take Her Up to Monto.” The album is full of club bangers, with Murphy channeling all her distinctive craft into a steamy celebratory experience.
Murphy dives directly into theatrics on opener “Simulation,” donning her huskiest voice, and declaring, “I feel like my story is still untold / But I make my own happy ending”. Strings and fog give way to a throbbing pulse, and within seconds, the party has started. Murphy sings, “This is a simulation” in a carefree voice that defies the unsettling undertones of the statement. The pulsating bass and emergent sonic environment soon make clear that the simulation she speaks of is essentially a tease. After a seamless transition into “Kingdom of Ends,” however, the entire display intensifies. Murphy sings sinuous, serpentine melodies that, at moments, nod to her Siouxsie Sioux inspirations, alternating with soulful diva interjections over hissing ambience, cloudy pads and mercilessly abrasive synth bass.
The unabashedly indulgent mood already established reaches new camp heights on “Something More,” a track made for disco dancing in the most dim-lit nightclub. The lyrics seem to emanate naturally from the music, with Murphy openly professing a restless desire that nearly always exists at the root of such creative zeal. Like a consummate DJ set that reels the listener in slowly, the album builds gradually to a cathartic release that comes four tracks in, on “Shellfish Mademoiselle,” the most melodic song yet, and also the most blatantly retro in its disco stylings. Over an infectious bassline and a relentless kick and clap, Murphy runs through sugary hooks, and proclaims herself the “Shellfish Mademoiselle.” Why shellfish, out of all things, is a question for the ages, but one has to give Murphy credit for keeping the surprises coming.
Murphy’s voice is up-front and center, with a new clarity on “Incapable,” a track that takes a natural step further, with another infectious bassline, insistent beat, and sound effects that slowly envelop Murphy, transforming a grounded, earthy track into a crystalline form. While the opening track evoked a spacious club scene with a sole vixen making her way through, the space has steadily filled, and is at capacity by the point of “We Got Together,” a raging party track with a mobilizing titular chant. Murphy puts on her most soulful diva voice, as an exhilarating, scraping bass plods on and distorts, cueing siren blasts, and making for the most celebratory track yet.
The monologue that began the album is reprised and extended on “Murphy’s Law,” a single that lives up to its name in its immediate impact. At this point, Murphy has committed to a role, and is playing a character with an audible relish. Countless artists shy away from such indulgences, compelled to maintain a consistent voice, so as to satisfy conventional expectations of “authenticity.” Ultimately, such concerns are only an impediment to full expression, and the most daring artists see right through the facade. Upon hearing “Murphy’s Law,” no one in their right mind would guess that the singer behind this loft party imagining happens to be extremely Irish. The lyrics are as playfully intriguing as the sounds, with Murphy singing about making one’s mind up about staying away from a seductive force, but knowing that all such conviction is ultimately an exercise in futility, as “Murphy’s law’s gonna strike again.”
After a succession of unrelenting dance tracks, “Game Changer” brings a relative moment of respite, while still chugging along in unmistakable club territory. Murphy nearly raps on this track, speaking rhythmically in a whispery voice that fluctuates in a way that certainly nods to hip-hop, and switching seamlessly to soulful bellowing and back. The track breaks new sonic ground, and finds Murphy exploring new sounds with the same commitment to perfection that fans will now surely be used to. On “Narcissus,” Murphy repeats the title in a whisper that effectively captures the spirit of the original myth, then shifts to a crooning abandon that further amplifies it. She pokes fun at narcissistic characters, but does so with a presentation so convincing that it hints at an affinity with such inclinations. The strings that opened the album reemerge in the most indulgent moment, and erupt into yet another driving bassline. Finally, Murphy roars, “Jealousy,” in an epic beginning to an epic ending, on the concluding track of that name. Gang of Four guitars strike on cue, perhaps the most overt nod to the post punk influences that have always made their way into Murphy’s music. Reverberating sighs resound in echoing trails over another festive backbeat, as Murphy edges on and encourages the jealousy at hand with her usual feisty spirit.
“Róisín Machine” finds Murphy embracing the disco stylings that she only hinted at in recent releases, and exploring them with an abandon consistent with the adventurous nature that has defined her brand since day one. A considerable portion of the sounds on display are in the realm of house, but accented with retro gestures that nod to the heritage behind that style. The goth and industrial influences that have always colored Murphy’s music are always at reach, although the music consistently comes across as a seamless blend of instincts, rather than a mishmash. Murphy’s voicings, lyrics, and overall aura are as edgy as ever, reaffirming her status as a cultish celebrity who continues to reinvent herself.
“Róisín Machine” releases Oct. 2 on Apple Music.