Having tantalisingly drip-fed us Twitter hints about a new project in the works over the past few months, Nick Murphy finally dropped a surprise new EP, Missing Link, with a disclaimer: ‘This is for you. A bridge between what’s out and what’s coming.’ As a reinventing and transitional release, it’s certainly dynamic. It accompanies a shift in identity from stage name to real name. The Chet Faker of Built On Glass you know and love is dead. All hail Nick Murphy. Missing Link is characterised by a similar shedding of gimmickry. It’s tense, cluttered and a far cry from the measured and tropical jazz-poptronica of Built on Glass.
Opening track ‘Your Time’, produced by Kaytranada, is the most radio-friendly and digestible track on the EP. Following a collaboration with Bonobo on No Reason earlier this year, Murphy has adopted a foundation of textured soundscapes rather than his tried and tested verse/refrain formula. Broodingly ambient and synth-drenched, ‘Your Time’ nonetheless references Built on Glass more than the rest of the EP. Catchy lyrics, punchy drums and multi-layered vocals give it the hallmarks of a Chet Faker track, but its dark and ragged edge predicts the direction of the rest of the EP.
The somewhat insipid instrumental ‘Bye’ follows. Charging, muddy guitar crescendos with the overlay of a Muse-esque electronic wailing and tapers off on a single whinnying note in a mere minute and a half. Whilst it contributes little to Missing Link’s overall depth, it’s intellectual value as a signpost delineating the frontier between the familiar landscape of ‘Your Time’, and Murphy’s new musical vision, is unmissable. The following track, ‘I’m Ready’, muses upon the act of an open submission to love with soaring vocals, ‘lord I know… I’m ready to fall in love’, that linger as dreamy echoes. The vulnerability that Murphy explores here applies as much to the process of musical reinvention as it does to the tempestuous love he describes.
In this tone of prostration, ‘I’m Ready’ acts as proverbial engine oil for the marching experimentalism of ‘Forget About Me’. Clamouring church bells recall the earlier teaser track ‘Fear Me’ and build on the notion of an almost religious process of rebirth. Synth-strewn choral vocals emerge, introducing a surging orchestral soundscape which descends into a Bjork-esque emotional breakdown. Structured with a fierce techno bassline and battered by fits of wailing synth, ‘Forget About Me’ easily qualifies as the EP’s most aggressive piece. Though the texture is unrelentingly abstract, clear-cut, if slightly heavy-handed, chants of ‘Forget about me, I’ll forget about you,” lend impact to an otherwise muddy work. The tumult of the creative process is alive and kicking here. Roughly-hewn and grappling with a transitional sound, ‘Forget About Me’ is one of the weaker tracks, but belies the blueprint of a departure into a heavier, bolder sound.
Missing Link finishes strong. ‘Weak Education’, with irresistible funk hooks and a smattering of afrobeat, is a slow build. Familiar effects – bells and brass that recall ‘Talk is Cheap’, and pummeling bass – segue into a deftly woven tapestry of minimalist techno and evocative pop-texture with an almost apres-ski feel. Murphy only takes a quick tropical house breather, however, before a stampeding disco-style keyboard-on-acid solo takes hold and shakes it ‘til the end. ‘Weak Education’ is simultaneously a collage of Murphy’s musical strengths, an elegy to Chet Faker, and a proposal for his next album, which is already in the works.
In sum, Missing Link is cluttered. It’s an insight into a process of change, and as such, is unpolished and emotional. It’s no Built On Glass, but it’s not trying to be. Deliberately ragged, Murphy has produced a statement on the creative process as much as a musical offering for his fans. To borrow from Bowie, Murphy seems to declare: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”