ALBUM REVIEW: Nick Murphy finds himself on ‘Run Fast Sleep Naked’

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During the five years since Nick Murphy released Built on Glass, he’s reoriented himself as a frontrunner in modern soul. Besides leaving his stage name Chet Faker, the Australian musician and producer embarked on a cross-continental journey of creativity and introspection. From his mother’s living room to Japan, Murphy recorded the vocal tracks for Run Fast Sleep Naked in multiple places. This ample inspiration and production by Dave Harrington resulted in a definite step up for Murphy.  

Run Fast Sleep Naked
Nick Murphy
Downtown Records, April 26

“Hear It Now” begins Run Fast Sleep Naked with only Murphy’s strong voice, but sweeping harps and wall-of-sound synths enter as his fervor increases. Driven by a nuanced beat recalling trip-hop like Unkle and Massive Attack, Murphy sings of finding confidence in the unknown: “We’re far from home/ But I’m feeling what I’m supposed to feel… I can hear it loud/ Inside my ears.”

His knack for dynamism carries over onto “Harry Takes Drugs On The Weekend.” From shimmering synth pads and a pronounced bass line akin to Takk-era Sigur Rós, processed string leads and mid-tempo four-on-the-floor follow a vocal motif about an uplifting message of living and learning.

Calypso-tinged conga rhythms and piano chords underpin old-school funk drum and bass grooves on lead single “Sanity.” It’s a fitting backdrop for a narrative of pursuing someone despite common sense, but tracks like “Sunlight” and “Yeah I Care” blend these familiar elements with unexpected sonics. Nimble guitar lines and a thumping bass reach a mind-altering culmination on the former. The song’s atonal modulations and wonky vocal inflection come off like shoegaze with a R&B rhythm structure. By contrast, the up-tempo jazz-rock beat of “Yeah I Care” puts grating guitar strains against a melodious bass line. Crescendoing synth notes ebb and flow with the song, building tension before cathartic drops and a protracted keyboard solo.

“Never No,” the album’s most accessible cut, achieves what Coldplay has been attempting since Viva La Vida. His anthemic voice takes full effect when the rousing beat drops out, making room for ascending modulations of brassy synth and flashy bass playing. The rising action is expertly brought to a head as the full instrumentation triumphantly returns.

The English folk acoustic guitars at the start of “Some People” achieves a similar effect amid atmospheric drones and string accents. It lulls the listener before an unexpected industrial blast overtakes the last minute.

“Dangerous,” another vocal-centric cut, proves Murphy can lead the song with his passionate, palatable singing without relying on overblown production. Over a simple beat and choral synth, he wonders if he’s a good person or just lying to himself.

Murphy’s production remains as inspired as his vocals on “Novacaine and Coca Cola.” He juggles blue-eyed-soul falsetto inflections and expressive melodies, inflating the introductory syncopated guitar line to a beautiful, challenging and modern ballad.

Explorative texture and direct emotional impact become the foundation of Run Fast Sleep Naked. Ethereal piano chords and a demure trumpet solo start “Believe (Me)” as Murphy softly harmonizing underneath. His voice reaches passionate heights as he struggles to reconcile self-care with his relationships. At the song’s midpoint, the piano makes way for of synthetic soundscapes and rumbling sub-bass. Murphy repeats the song’s melancholic refrain through robotic Auto-Tune: “We all want something/ Looks nothing like what we need.” Just when it seems ready to cross into 808s & Heartbreak territory, it all circles back to the intro’s gorgeous acoustics. It’s an impressive display of adventurous production used tastefully in service of emotional impact.

“Message You At Midnight” closes out the album with an arresting display of dynamic songwriting chops. The song spends its first half in ambient bliss, before orchestral crescendos intense emotion Murphy can get without beats or sub-bass. He uses the full extent of his range, completely changing the feel of chorus from its sombre first run and its intense second.

That’s really what makes Run Fast Sleep Naked a standout record for modern electro-soul. It has the imaginative production, vocal chops and emotional impact to appeal on all three fronts. The enthusiasm and musicality Murphy displays evidences how his soul-searching journey paid off.

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