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Martha Skye Murphy’s “Concrete” is a Harrowing Song of Self-Destruction

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“Concrete” certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of song that should be called “Concrete.” The title track from Martha Skye Murphy’s new EP, “Concrete” is vaporous and ethereal, with hints of Julia Holter and Julee Cruise in its dreamy chamber pop sound. Strings buzz, harps twinkle, and a processed piano plays a plaintive music box melody. There are times when it seems like the song might vanish into thin air. But Murphy has other tricks up her sleeve, and in its own way, “Concrete” becomes as dense and suffocating as the substance itself.

Murphy describes “Concrete” as a song “from the point of view of a captor to their beloved hostage,” and even at the song’s gentlest you can tell that something is amiss. The lyrics speak of a desire to construct a metaphorical concrete building around the narrator and their loved one/hostage, and the desperate need for security and safety is so tangible it hurts. Murphy’s voice is a rare instrument: her breathy soprano is feather-light and needle-sharp, lulling you with its beauty before piercing you with its raw emotional power.

After she promises to build that dense, protective concrete building around them, she then promises to plant a garden. “I’m gonna watch it blossom/around us/around this,” she sings, soothing herself more than her captive. In fact, it’s strongly implied that this garden, metaphorical or otherwise, is possible only in the narrator’s delusions. Gardens can’t exactly grow from concrete, after all, just as true security can’t come from a prison, however familiar it might be to its prisoners.

“Concrete” reinforces these themes with a climax that is quite literally breathtaking–as in, it wasn’t until the song stopped that I realized I had been holding my breath for a full minute. Murphy repeats the words “in concrete” again and again, her voice growing steadily more intense, her soprano growing steadily more piercing. Each layer distorts the one before it, until eventually she’s howling on the verge of hysteria. It’s like the wails of someone trapped behind a wall, “Cask of Amontillado” style, except Murphy constructed the wall herself; she is both Fortunato and Montresor, and she’s roped in someone else, too.

“Concrete” is a song that won’t leave you anytime soon. As beautiful as it can be, it’s truly harrowing: a tragedy of someone whose need for love and safety has resulted in delusion and self-destruction. There’s only one real way a song like this can end, and the jarring, noisy crash at the end hints at it. It’ll all end in tears, for sure–it may not have been worth it for the narrator, but it absolutely is for the listener.

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