Although Lady Gaga already constructed herself a throne, Róisín Murphy is this adolescent century’s true art-pop queen. Since her early days as half of the trip-hop-ish duo Moloko, Murphy has parlayed her reputation for sporting avant-garde couture into a place among fashion’s elite, made popular club tunes for heavyweight house labels Permanent Vacation and Crosstown Rebels and recorded an album of concrète-pop with British jazzy house mainstay Matthew Herbert (who remixed several of her tracks under the pseudonym Dr. Rockit). Her sensuous and ominous output is scattered across various genres and moods, so we created a guide to her discography to aid the unfamiliar before she releases her first album in eight years, Hairless Toys, and ahead of her headlining appearance at our festival in Cologne on May 29.
“Fun for Me” by Moloko on Do You Like My Tight Sweater?
Moloko was born when Murphy approached Mark Brydon at a party with the legendary pick-up line, “Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body.” The line later became the title of the duo’s first album, and it captures the quirkiness that would set Moloko apart from other moodier trip-hop bands like Portishead, Massive Attack, and recent EB Festival headliners Archive. On “Fun For Me,” Murphy throws her voice around a jazzy backbeat like a rave generation Mack the Knife.
“Where is the What if the What is the Why” by Moloko on Do You Like My Tight Sweater?
Built on a psychedelic turn of nonsense, “Where is the What” is a lyrical MC Escher painting. It’s one of Moloko’s most categorically trip-hop productions, with groovy bass, hip-hop rim shots, and far off chimes that all lock together before opening into chillout room ambience.
“Sing It Back” by Moloko on I Am Not a Doctor
“Sing It Back” became an international club anthem after it received a straightforward house rhythm made by Boris Dlugosch, whose remix Murphy and Brydon chose over the version helmed by New York house superstar Todd Terry. However, the original is far more interesting. It introduces Murphy as a sensuous dance floor diva, and its swung, tightly syncopated drums make the tune sound like a forbearer to UK funky.
“The Flipside” by Moloko on I Am Not a Doctor
Moloko came of age during a hopeful time in British pop music when an entirely new spate of electronic textures was suddenly available to producers working outside the rave. Here, a drum ‘n’ bass rhythm works its way around a busy guitar lick while Murphy lets words fly in the fray.
“Statues” by Moloko on Statues
Though the end of Murphy and Brydon’s romantic relationship also meant the end of Moloko, the tabloid narrative that their personnel discord became apparent in their music doesn’t hold up. Yes, Statues was the last Moloko album, but like their other albums, it was odd and compelling. That said, “Statues” is, somewhat fittingly, the best of Moloko’s mournful swan songs.
“Through Time” by Róisín Murphy on Ruby Blue
Murphy met Matthew Herbert when he remixed “Sing It Back”, and later she brought him on to produce her first solo album, Ruby Blue. Herbert, an avid sampler of the quotidian, built a strange album that record executives argued needed reworking, but Murphy resisted and the LP eventually hit shelves without an edit. “Through Time” sounds like Herbert made a Norah Jones track with a musique concrète drum kit and unusual noisy embellishments. Murphy coos softly, reassuring as she leaps through unexpected, jazzy intervals.
“Ramalama (Bang Bang)” by Róisín Murphy on Ruby Blue
This is the pièce de résistance of Murphy’s collaboration with Matthew Herbert. The rhythms are a shambling steampunk machine and though the total menace is a bit too close to that of a novelty Halloween CD, it’s an example of Moloko’s playful approach to music. Her solo albums tend to bear a bit of Moloko’s trademark rhythm-inflected humor.
“Checkin’ On Me” by Róisín Murphy on Overpowered
“Checkin’ On Me,” one of Murphy’s least electronic compositions, is a funky crooner with a pop hook.
“Simulation” by Róisín Murphy on Simulation
Mano Le Tough remix of “Simulation” made its way around Innervisions’ dance floors for the better part of a year, but the original is the one. The groovy, chunky bassline and hi-hats that stretch into exhausts of white noise make the Richard Barratt production a worthwhile slow disco stomper. Murphy rounds out the track’s disco pedigree with a reference to Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face”: “If it’s all over my face, it’s all in my mind,/You don’t get to let it slide.”
“Pensiero Stupendo” by Róisín Murphy on Mi Senti
Murphy’s most recent release, an EP Italian pop song covers, is a departure for the singer. In addition to adopting Italian for the gentle synth record, she also abandons any sense of oddity. Songs like “Pensiero Stupendo” are made of studio-smoothed edges and mastered for piazza speakers.
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Click here to read our last guide, which broke down Dominick Fernow’s work as Prurient.
Published April 02, 2015.