In classical mechanics, a “two-body problem” describes two masses in a mutual orbit of one another – an ellipse, a parabola, two planets around a sun – like a Spirograph you were given on Christmas day, where dizzying lines forged in different coloured pencils magically intersect with each other around a central point, but never collide. The theory of the two-body problem is that each orbit is unspoiled, that each object only interacts with the other, but never meets. It’s an imperfect theory but the motion is hypnotic, and makes a good analogy for Martha Skye Murphy’s transcendent new EP, ‘Heal’.
The London-based artist and songwriter has several disciplines in perpetual orbit. The co-founder of a theatre company called I Swear I Saw This; her one-woman show, an hour-long lecture on the precipice of sanity (so titled Two Body Problem) has irregularly toured public spaces. You might recognise her voice as one that lent backing vocals to Nick Cave’s ‘Push The Sky Away’. More recently, she’s made a drone dance with Savage Gary and Dan Carey for Speedy Wunderground’s Quarantine Series, released a score for Ivan Krzeszowiec’s enigmatic motion picture The Late Departure, and coded an interactive website for it too.
“I forgot that I was lying,” starts Murphy, in a pronounced whisper, “my intention was not to lie.” Sonically, the opening track ‘Dung Beetle’ is sparse and uneasy, stabbed by conflicting notes in their own confinement. These are noises you might expect to hear walking alone through the corridors of the Tate, propelled by the Reichian pulse and chorus of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. Murphy’s own shadowy spoken word is caught in the tug and thrust of scarab funerary cults and art-house horror.
For all of the intrigue of ‘Dung Beetle’, though, it retrospectively becomes an extended introduction to ‘Heal’. The incantatory title-track spreads itself throughout the echo of a daf drum; it’s a desert-scape where Murphy’s roving multi-tracked vocal sounds suspended between PJ Harvey’s piercing contralto and the supernatural falsetto of FKA twigs – harshly real and mythic in the same breath. It’s Murphy’s finest song to date, laced with an anthemic edge, but one that’s fiercely veiled in spirituality, and distorts as it builds to climax. The ice-cold closing refrain paints Murphy as a soothsayer, some fickle mystic peddler with a private agenda: “I’m sorry to hear that, I hope you heal.” The more they’re repeated, the more they’re reeled in with the closing track ‘Augustine’, played backwards as Murphy’s sinister lines degrade from monastic meditation to humming drone.
In little more than twelve minutes of music, the world that Martha Skye Murphy creates on ‘Heal’ is dark and cavernous, dangerous and wholly addicting. If theatre in its essence is a series of skilled untruths, then this is the perfect lie.
- Release date: July 10
- Record label: Self-released