Roisin Murphy is the kind artist record companies hate. She doesn’t follow traditional paths, instead working at her own speed and following her own agenda. The seven year gap between her second and third CDs is proof of that. Stemming from the same sessions that spawned the Mercury Prize nominated Hairless Toys, the nine tracks on Take Her Up To Monto move closer to the edges eschewing the middle ground. Nowhere is that clearer than on the albums title, “Monto” being Dublin slang for the city’s red light district.
Opening with burbling synths followed by electronic drums, ‘Mastermind’ charts a path that leaves customary song structure behind. The initial section is virtually a spoken word piece but when Roisin starts to sing the song begins to take flight. As the song gives in to the darkness of the music, the lyrics share a similar tone, “Baby, I’m ready to give in to the night, It’s in the liquid that we take to elevate. Are you coming to find me, or waiting up till I’m dead?”
‘Pretty Games’ starts with an almost safe synthesized, pizzicato synth that slowly translates into something more dangerous while Murphy assumes an almost Billy Holiday-ish voice. Like much of the album the way things start is not how they end. Sounds change shape and tonal shifts leave the listener a little unsure of where things are going next. The challenge is to follow Murphy’s lead and see where the path she blazes leads.
Starting with a simple piano that almost as quickly backs away to a synth bed, ‘Thoughts Wasted’ (and album as a whole) becomes an exploration of sound in its purest form. Background sounds come to the fore then are replaced by new tones and textures. Interesting juxtaposition between the lyrics, “I know, I know, I know, I’ve heard it all a million times before and if you’ve something new to add…” while the music consistently changes forms within a similar framework.
While the end of the album tends to sag a little under the weight of so much expectation and experimentation, Murphy is clearly an artist unwilling to hew to the paths of others. She is determined to chart her own course, challenging her audience and their notions of what is expected.
Words: Bob Fish