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Martha Skye Murphy hints at veiled secrets on Um

Release date: 14 June 2024
Martha Skye Murphy Um cover
14 June 2024, 09:00 Written by Grace Marshall

The album art pictures multimedia artist and musician Martha Skye Murphy hooked up to a lie detector in a spartan office unit.

Underneath her, the album’s title – Um – is displayed like a subtitle, as if Murphy is struggling to express herself in some interrogation.

It’s imagery that’s obviously been carefully chosen. Throughout this luminously original and varied record, Murphy’s storytelling is obscure and encoded. Embedded within sound design that stretches from the most intimate ASMR rustle to slamming synth architecture, we find her, resisting confession and protecting her secrets. Uncertain, shivering delivery often renders Murphy’s narrative indistinct – in “Call Me Back”, words are replaced altogether by close mic-ed murmurs and hushed laughter. Only in glimpses do internal wounds and desires shudder out into the open – like in the chorus of “Need”, where Murphy reveals “I need you to need me to need you”. Elsewhere, we’re left guessing as to in which images Murphy has betrayed her own confidence: what about the glorious finale to “Spray Can”: “let’s go to the river / let’s fight together / let’s soak in the weight of each other / … catch a fish and throw it back in with a part missing / no fins / can’t swim”.

Produced in collaboration with Ethan P. Flynn – known for his work with David Byrne, FKA Twigs and Nia Archives – the composition itself is galactic in its range of textures, samples, and design. Cliffs of ambient drones and synth and far-away brass are recast in an instant into vulnerable exhales of string and overdubbed choirs, into field recordings and voice memos. Veering between hi and lo fi, organic and artificial, each track is multiply unexpected. Tonal shifts move us constantly as if within chambers underground, where earthly noises resound around and around until they’re strange and foreign. We’re manouvred towards a knife-edge of vulnerability and power, recalling Beth Gibbons’ tortured revelations and Claire Rousay’s uncanny landscaping. Tapestried by contributions from the likes of Rousay, Roy Montgomery, caroline’s Alex McKenzie and Squid’s Laurie Nankivell, Murphy’s debut is an uncanny and heroic game of hide and seek.

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