Róisín Murphy is no stranger to innovative, enthralling pop sounds. From her haunting ballad “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” to the 2007 musical time capsule “Overpowered”, Murphy adds new surprises to her sound with each successive album. That trend continues with Take Her Up to Monto, the Irish singer incorporating a surprising, refreshing array of genres and influences. However, the album features a dissonance that can’t be ignored.
While other artists build up to approachability, Murphy was at her most accessible on her soulful debut album, 2005’s Ruby Blue. Over the years, her sound has been molded into a more eccentric, unique artistry. This, in turn, created a niche that decidedly isn’t for everyone. Her albums definitely command a time and place, even if at times that may alienate some listeners. Murphy embarked on an eight-year hiatus following her sophomore release, Overpowered. That return, last year’s Hairless Toys, leaned on crisp, futuristic production and danceable melodies that all meshed together expertly.
Not to be content with that one comeback album, those sessions garnered enough material for two albums. On the back half of those songs, Murphy attempts to continue the momentum propelled by her most innovative release. Take Her Up to Monto opens with “Mastermind”, an eery space-pop love story. Though synth beats drone on in the backdrop, Murphy’s vocals shine through, as strong as ever. The song moves from minor to major keys, rich harmonies and instrumental segues peppered throughout its nearly seven-minute run.
Murphy’s longstanding fascination with jarring melodies continues with “Pretty Gardens”, a cabaret track with a twist. The instrumentation builds to a rough edge as Murphy seems to address the listener head-on: “I just want you to look upon me/ And see the good inside/ What do you see when you look upon me?” This juxtaposition of raw emotionality and surreal melody continues on “Nervous Sleep”, anxiety, fear, and darkness wrapping into a tightly drawn tune.
While Murphy asserts her continuously evolving identity, she also returns to her musical past. The pristine, lounge-ready “Lip Service” finds a bossa nova feel, reminiscent of Murphy’s debut. Throughout the album, songs open with lonely piano only to build over that base quickly. The only song on the album that cements the keys as a running heartbeat is “Whatever”, which drips with ethereal moments and eerie lyricism.
Some of the songs become obscured by Murphy’s ambitious experimentation, too many techniques coalescing in a single song. The focal points of “Thoughts Wasted” and “Romantic Comedy” are distorted by haphazard genre-shifting. The space themes return musically on “Ten Miles High”, yet the lyrics feel hollow. Murphy centers the album with closing track “Sitting and Counting”, a glittering piano backdrop, soaring imagery, and a palpable melancholy complementing the rising tide of her voice.
With a title drawn from the classic Irish ballad of the same name, Take Her Up to Monto aims to transform the traditional — after all, Murphy has gradually moved farther and farther away from more conventional sounds. While the album features several standout tracks and stunning vocals, as a whole, over-shined production and mashed-up genres obscure Murphy’s strengths.
Essential Tracks: “Pretty Gardens”, “Nervous Sleep”, and “Whatever”