In the years between 2007's Overpowered and 2015's Hairless Toys, Róisín Murphy issued a string of singles that were as excellent as her albums. "Simulation," a 2012 collaboration with producer Richard Barratt, was a particularly glittering highlight of that era. A swirl of mirror ball sparkles and dry ice fog, it spoke to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's transporting version of disco as well as Murphy's skill at sweeping listeners into a world of her own. It was a potent start to her collaboration with Barratt, who went on to craft similarly elegant music steeped in house and disco traditions as Crooked Man. On 2020's Róisín Machine, he and Murphy continue to bring out the best in each other. It only makes sense to start the album with the beginning of their long-simmering partnership: eight years later, "Simulation" remains as stunning as when it first appeared, with reflections upon reflections of Murphy's voice unfolding over its steady beat and pulsing synths. Though the track sets the tone for what follows, Róisín Machine never feels predictable. More than on some of her previous releases, Murphy winks at the playful artificiality that has been her trademark since the Moloko days. She's often seemed like she could be an android with her shape-shifting vocals and unexpected songwriting choices; only she would name a sultry track "Shellfish Mademoiselle," and only she could get away with it. Fortunately, this more straightforward approach doesn't detract from the power of her illusions. The gradual smoothing of her style that started on Overpowered and made Hairless Toys so gorgeously sophisticated attains a fittingly mechanical perfection on Róisín Machine. It's as seamless as a mix album, with a haziness that calls to mind the magic of the dancefloor on tracks like the ghostly "Game Changer." With Barratt's help, Murphy dives deeper than ever before into the disco and house roots that make up the foundations of her solo career, but even with a narrower focus, she finds a wide range of expression. On "Kingdom of Ends," she ascends to her rightful position as the empress of dance music on steeply rising synth strings that feel infinite. On "Narcissus," those strings become a nervy, restless loop as Murphy riffs on Greek mythology, one of many moments on Róisín Machine where she melds fantasies and club culture into songs that are as artful as they are kinetic. She's never sounded as velvety as she does on "Murphy's Law," her version of the classic disco trope of dancing through heartache, while the emotional complexity she brings to "Incapable" and "Jealousy" works with their driving beats, not against them. From start to finish, Róisín Machine is cohesive and spellbinding. Murphy truly is a machine in her consistent creativity, and this is a particularly well-oiled example of her brilliance.
(LP - Skint Records #4050538696288)
Review by Heather Phares
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2