October 8, 2010

Róisín Murphy Ruby Blue

Ruby Blue is the solo-debut of Irish singer Róisín Murphy, best-known to many listeners as the former vocalist of popular 90s electronic-pop group Moloko. On this album, she delivers a terrific set of highly addictive tunes, combining her accessible, mainstream appeal with a flair for unpredictable twists and turns and experimental flourishes which set the Róisín Murphy - Ruby Bluealbum apart from those made by her electro-pop peers. Producer Matthew Herbert wraps Murphy’s sublime vocals in a blanket of sensual, retro-futuristic production, full of glitchy effects and curious voice manipulation, augmenting the songs’ subtle-yet-infectious melodies in some very pleasing ways. Electro-pop became a pretty huge deal throughout the last decade, through groups like Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem, but I find that many of the albums by these sorts of artists were lacking in consistency and suffered from poor track sequencing. Ruby Blue is a perfect example of how to get these things right, and the sequencing in particular is very well handled, spacing out the assorted levels of tempo and intensity in a way that gives the album a very smooth and natural progression. The sultry “Leaving the City” opens the album in a tentative, patient fashion, and is followed in suit by a small handful of quiet, mid-tempo numbers. The album then crosses to the more lively single “Sow Into You”, which kicks things up a notch along with the radio-friendly cuts “Dear Diary” and “If We’re in Love”, before peaking spectacularly with the thumpy and eccentric “Ramalama” and the slick and sassy “Ruby Blue” – the latter of which is one of my favourite pop songs of the decade. “Off on It” provides a timely detour into the more overtly bizarre, with its breathy vocals, gurgling electronics and robotic effects creating an atmosphere that’s very sexy yet also oddly disconcerting, perhaps best summed up by the lyric “You know how one thing tends to lead to another, and before you know it, you’re there: tied to the chair”. The whole thing finally builds into Murphy’s mantra-like chant of “Don’t you get off on it? / off on it? / off on it?”, which would sound incredibly seductive if it wasn’t so unsettling. Ruby Blue is basically a modern pop album that does everything right, anchoring its memorable and catchy melodies around Murphy’s alluring, magnetic personality. If only everything on the radio sounded like this.




August 26, 2010

electropop, hip-hop, world music

M.I.A’s first album, Arular, never really gelled at all for me. It was musically jarring in a manner that rubbed me the wrong way, and I found it to be frustratingly inconsistent in quality. After a handful of listens it was finally relegated to the big pile of music I rarely bother to revisit. Because of this, I steered clear of Kala upon its release, assuming that I’d be in for more of the same. It wasn’t until I had a brief obsession with the ubiquitous single “Paper Planes” that I finally decided to check the album out, and even then I was hesitant about being drawn in by a singular hit. Better late than never, though, as Kala brings together Arular‘s more promising aspects – punchy rhythms, dynamic vocals, wry humour and political M.I.A. - Kalaawareness – refines them, tidies them up and streamlines them through a Indian-pop-meets-Western-dance-party sensibility. The results are a bevy of creative, dancefloor-burning tunes: “Jimmy” is a swirling Bollywood gem, “Bird Flu” and “Hustle” are both pleasingly feisty, her reworking of “Mango Pickle Down River” takes the didgeridoo samples and vocals from the original by indigenous Australian group The Wilcannia Mob and adds a couple of Maya’s own verses, a cool London grime backdrop and some sharper production, and “Paper Planes” and “Boyz” – the latter being my personal favourite – are bouncy, anthemic and brimming with attitude in a manner that makes them two of the decade’s most impossibly addictive singles.