Where are the survivors of 1990s electronica? I’m thinking in particular about groups with charismatic women singers: Everything But the Girl, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Olive, Mono, Ivy, and all the others who turned out moody, vocal-centric dance and downtempo music. It seemed only Bjork and Goldfrapp were still plugging away productively until today, when a new record drops from Róisín Murphy, the former singer from Moloko. Hairless Toys is her first album in eight years, and the patience and care she’s put into it have yielded what’s sure to be one of the best albums of 2015.
Murphy’s voice is a distinctive instrument — a soulful, velvety croon that can rise to diva levels of force but typically hovers around a seductive purr — that centers an exquisite flurry of counterpoints and textures created by long-time producer Eddie Stevens. On Hairless Toys their collaboration tends in the direction of a minimalist dance music: sketches of house, disco and funk that signify the dancefloor but are really best experienced in the interiority of headphones. It all makes for a heady concoction, as lead track “Gone Fishing” illustrates.
You can play Hairless Toys really loud (in fact, you should!) and it never overwhelms, instead inviting the listener into the ample spaces of its arrangements. A case in point is the song “Exploitation.” As Murphy’s most recent single it’s already a pretty great song, but the album gives it an exciting recontextualization with the addition of an intro of jackboot beats and a mesmerizing deconstruction over the last three minutes. The second half of the album offers more subdued, intimate material, with unexpected splashes of country soul and other surprises to keep listeners on their toes. (By the end, I can’t help but think of side two of Eurythmics’ Touch, which is high praise indeed). For intelligent, soulful music to cool you down on hot summer nights, look no further than Hairless Toys.
Hairless Toys comes out today on Play It Again Sam Recordings.