Friday, July 13, 2007
Roisin Murphy. Ruby Blue (2005).
During her 10 year gig as half of the electronica duo Moloko, Roisin Murphy reached the UK top 40 four times, and the top 10 three times. The group hit the Billboard top 10 in the Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts a couple of times. Their spooky track, "Fun For Me," got some attention as part of the Batman soundtrack in 1997. When her solo release dropped I had no idea who she was but my musical life has been enormously enriched since finding out.
For this record, Roisin collaborated with producer Matthew Herbert in fusing together house-inflected pop with jazz and experimental sampling. It's not confusing to listen to, but the continually evolving layers of fine details cannot be absorbed in a quick listen. Even a more stripped down tune like "Sow Into You" will have you wondering, "What was that?" before something else catches your ear, taking you in a different direction.Roisin became noted through the 90's as an eccentric and wacky nutter, embodying quirky personas in outlandish costumes. The video for "Sow Into You" demonstrates she is still interested in offbeat visual representations. (Unfortunately, the video uses a less bristly edit of the audio track than the complete version on the CD, but you get the idea).
Moloko's songs could be humorous, but at times they were dark and eerily unhinged, or just bizarre, but always with a solidly swinging rhythmic underpinning. Ruby Blue is less cartoonish and more about the life of the heart. Roisin confessed that she didn't know how she could possibly do a record on her own. The songs she came up with by herself after the professional and personal heartache of Moloko's breakup are mature for someone under 30. Still, myth, metaphor and personal fantasy come into play on a number of tracks, as in "Night of the Dancing Flame."Roisin's palette of voices make up a fair amount of the musical details. Vocals jump between the speakers, they seem right in front of your face, then they jump back into the distance. They're processed, pitch shifted and EQ'd in a variety of ways as they dovetail and provide counterpoint to the main melody. She sings backup to herself in a style reminiscent of Motown in Dear Diary, or The Andrews Sisters in "Ramalama."The instrumentation is unusual, with what sounds like hammered dulcimer, harpsichord, alarm clocks, tupperware, cutlery, along with horn sections, electric piano, and a fuzzed out riff in the title track that sounds like a baritone rubber band. There is a definite jazz influence noticeable in the harmony and swing feel present throughout, which is fused with a house-pop beat. There are no programmed or acoustic drums on this CD. All percussion instruments are sampled from common household objects.Whether she is aware of it or not, Roisin is essentially a jazz singer. She stretches the melodies across implied rhythms and bends notes like a sax player. She even reminds me of Anita O'Day. In fact, I can imagine the final track being covered by another singer such as Cassandra Wilson. Accompanied only by piano and occasional flugelhorn, "The Closing of the Doors" captures the desire to renew a relationship in trouble, while realizing it is already too late to do so. It includes the haunting refrain, "Don't you remind me of someone," delivered in degrees of distance and intimacy that it is extraordinarily chilling.Obviously, Roisin's creative gifts are immense. What's wonderful about her is how inspired her vision is. Like Bjork, she is a lateral original, creating an oblique alternate world of her own, which is at once fractured and experimental while still being accessible, and "pop."
She has a new single out on iTunes, "Overpowered," and a new full length CD is on the way.