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Arts + CultureMusicNew Music: Róisín Murphy's 'Crooked Machine' redeems the remix...

New Music: Róisín Murphy’s ‘Crooked Machine’ redeems the remix album

With this soaring rework, collaborator DJ Crooked Man reaches back to show the young ones how disco's done

Róisín Machine, the fifth solo studio album by Irish singer Róisín Murphy, seemed to hit a collective nerve throughout the world upon its release last year. Besides ranking among the best albums of 2020 by all the cooler-than-your-purple-pants music sites, this one included, it became Murphy’s highest charting album in Ireland and the UK.

The word on the street is that when Machine was in the production stage, three or four versions of a track would suddenly drop into Murphy’s inbox from her producer and co-collaborator DJ Parrot a.k.a. Richard Barratt a.k.a. Crooked Man. They were all different, all brilliant, and so the idea of Parrot doing his own version of the project was always in the back of her mind.

Róisín Murphy: “DJ Parrot just cannot make rubbish music, he’d be too ashamed.”

Inspired by albums such as Gwen Guthrie’s 1985 Padlock, Imagination’s Night Dubbing, and Love & Dancing by The Human League, Barratt, has possibly topped what many thought should not be touched with his remix album Crooked Machine. 

“[DJ] Parrot doesn’t try to be ‘cool,’ I reckon that’s the last thing on his mind,” Murphy said in a statement about working with the producer on the remix LP. “He makes music with a sense of responsibility to the craft. He just cannot make rubbish music, he’d be too ashamed.”

Once again, she may be right.

The concept of a remix album—even previous to the COVID debacle—is seen by some as a cash grab, an opportune situation to drag out soggy microwaved-busted beats that an artist or band can sell while preparing for a tour. In these quaran-times, the remix album surely is becoming that extra Scooby Snack for some artists who haven’t been able to tour in 14 months, keeping them well-stocked on Jaffa Cakes and Walkers crisps, while the world (hopefully) maneuvers into a post-COVID existence. But let’s speak the King’s here; Half the time the remix album/project hits the bass bins with a subpar thud.

And yes, Crooked Machine is an after-party to Róisín Machine’s main event—but it’s a reinterpretation through low bass and shiny synths that listeners should really attend. From low-slung thump to ultra-peak rave madness in spirited stretches, Crooked artfully follows Murphy’s disco funhouse.

“I didn’t want to be as simplistic as a disco queen, because this music has come out of disco, proto-house, and Goth, Throbbing Gristle and [expletive] Cabaret Voltaire and Donna Summer,” the Irish musician told the New York Times last year. “It’s not just Black music, it’s not just alternative music, it’s not just dancing music—it’s all of them things clashing and beautifully melding and becoming something that’s about individualism and freedom. This is what we need.”

Crooked Machine is filled with new song titles, melded from the bones of the old ones. Simulation gets converted to assimilation, with an emphasis on “ass,” you can hear it, real thicc, in the bassline, accompanied by eyelash-winking piano ivories making noise. With nine songs clocking in at just under an hour, inverted thoughts get stacked like amen breaks and then crumble, rolling into freshly constructed architecture. Reminiscent of the most entertaining world-building moments in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception; Memories, or inserted dreams maybe, are constantly churning into new realities.

Barratt has a history with this music. It extends longer than the Facebook timeline of several young ingenues who attempted to put on a disco cape last year and play the genre for camp.

“I’m back to snatch Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware’s wigs,” Murphy might have declared last year. She only did what was right. 

The fact of the matter is that DJ Crooked is not just Murphy’s righthand co-visionary and contributing force to bleep techno forefathers Sweet Exorcist, but a UK don in his own right. Period. Got me? His central involvement in the early ’90s Sheffield electronic music scene allows for what at first seems like radical new interpretations. ”Hardcore Jealousy,” that wavey breakbeat jumbotron of pills, bliss, and jounce—actually, it’s a 30-year conversation between the two creatives, getting aired out in public.

Like his muse, DJ Parrot puts these ideas in new costumes and different environs. Machine was the red cup, living room masterpiece, with Murphy popping up in oddball costumes to sing these tunes through her Youtube clips. (Check the comments sections of those clips BTW—her fans got jokes for days.) 

Crooked Machine arrives just ahead of the curve of nightlife’s opening, cracking the doors to let the light in. I wanna hear “Hardcore Jealosy,” with its nutter break core symphony (a rewind to those Sheffield days) hoisting Murphy’s declarations into the pre-dawn strawberry sky. Where Róisín Machine chose disco as the milieu, Crooked uses a heavier, more cavernous-sounding house and techno arrangement that bears down on that 3 a.m. knock, when DJs put all their essence into bloodshot flangers. 

Murphy, yes indeedy, is singing a different song. But she and Barrat remain steadfast in Crooked Machine, presenting art—for the second year in a row—in its primal form. 

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.
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