27 May 2015 — Andrew Darley
After an eight-year intermission since her Overpowered record, Róisín Murphy unassumingly ushers her new album in. Channeling New York Ball Culture and its seminal Paris Is Burning documentary, one may have anticipated album opener "Gone Fishing" to be a ballsy dance romp. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. With an off-kilter arrangement, she invokes both the liberating movement in gay history and her own path as an artist (“Found a place to express my soul, Won’t go on in the shadow’s hold”). Its obscure strut makes abundantly clear that she’s traveling a new path compared to her previous disco-driven dance album.
Written, recorded and produced with her longtime collaborator and friend, Eddie Stevens, Hairless Toys is an experiment in meeting of minds. With almost twenty years work together, as Moloko’s and own touring musical director, this is the first time the two have written. Fascinatingly, the album’s energy is similar to her former band’s best work in how they delivered perplexing concoctions of genres that blend effortlessly together. The record is driven predominately by minimal house, funk and country influences, yet rises above all of them too. The way in which they are filtered through their collaboration resulted in strange and music with a further emphasis on the lyrics and their potential meanings.
Her physical image (referencing an imagined woman of the 70s with a penchant for stylish nylon) further punctuates a new expression. Her career is dotted by an interest in pushing the boundaries both musically and visually. The cover art echoes her departure and artistic transformation. Her debut solo record, Ruby Blue, found her ground as an artist in her own terms under the experimental, home-spun productions of Matthew Herbert, while Overpowered was its pumped-up clubkid sister. In this light, Hairless Toys, for want of a better term, is a ‘grown-up record’ about growing up. Its eight songs are nostalgic of time past amidst finding comfort in the present.
The record’s production and arrangements are ambiguous - several appear to be designed as subtle, quiet and often challenging. An unquantifiable tension and unrest underscores Hairless Toys. Her songwriting has shifted from pop hooks to focusing on melodies that ride over the music and the story they carry. As the majority of collection span six to nine minutes, a wandering quality emerges in how noises and instruments drop out as quickly as they arrive. Thundering percussion sanctions "Exploitation", lasting 30 seconds, before withdrawing to give way into its nine-minute meandering, woozy bass line. A jarring diversity of styles demand repeated listens to grasp its remit, like the blinkering funk of "Evil Eyes" or how "Exile" takes the album by its legs and throws it headfirst into country music. "Unputdownable" closes the album out with an ode to falling passionately in love and being consumed by a life-defining relationship (“You were my favourite book and I love reading between the lines”). It brilliantly balances the acoustic and electronic worlds with an uplifting, soulful chorus.
Róisín Murphy is an artist at the helm of her career, in love with the process of creating music and the riches she can unearth while doing it. Alongside Eddie Stevens, the pair have created a work unconcerned with instant gratification of its listeners, preferring to discover unknown territory instead. Characteristically driven by performance, these songs are a platform which blend wisdom, sadness and humour – all delivered with Róisín’s inimitable personality. Their collaboration has birthed a collection subdued in nature which leave a feeling of something unrequited. It paces itself in a slow reveal and its refined energy maintains an uncertainty of how it should be understood or experienced – once you think you’ve grasped it, it changes into something completely different. An intrinsic authenticity runs through Murphy’s work to date and this album is no exception in how she boldly executes her artistic vision.
Hairless Toys is a pop oddity. It is out now on Play It Again Sam.
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