When you’re the only permanent member of a band, you reserve the right to dismiss your previous lineup and record an entire album by your lonesome. Such is the case with Ryan McPhun, whose third album under the Ruby Suns moniker is essentially a solo effort. Written, performed, and produced by the frontman himself, Fight Softly replaces the tropical flair of 2008’s Sea Lion with synthesizers and digital production.
I think of The Ruby Suns and I think of sunshine and good times. I think of how I used to feel slightly in awe as a teenager on the rare occasions when Edinburgh would contrive for me to meet those beautiful, carefree people who used their esoteric musical taste as an affirmation, not a weapon. This is all very well and good for me, but it seems relevant enough to note here because that spirit is at the centre of how The Ruby Suns sound.
Like a best-of 2009 mixtape, New Zealand's the Ruby Suns combine delicate electronica with African sounds and tender vocals. Suffice to say, their ballpark's fielders might include Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective. Having mixed it with the Very Best and El Guincho too, you can see why they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most interesting acts of the last few years with a global musical outlook.
I haven’t cared much for this whole Brian Wilson revival trend in indie rock. I can admit to not caring about alternate universes where Pet Sounds was more influential than Sgt. Pepper’s, and even hoped that, following the releases of Merriweather Post Pavillion and Veckatimest, the mini-movement would have simultaneously reached its creative peak and its saturation point.
Pop music success requires good timing-- no local or unsigned band will debate this-- and the Ruby Suns have shitty timing. Their breakthrough album, Sea Lion, dropped in the early spring of 2008; it was a fun, loose take on Panda Bear's seaside psychedelia. Last summer, many indie fans fell hard for a smattering of artists-- Washed Out, Neon Indian-- that echoed the same big-wave aesthetic as the Suns.
Ryan McPhun of the Ruby Suns is a bit of an anomaly in the music environment he inhabits. Where the far off sounds of exotic locales and the trend-hopping worldbeat movement they’ve spawned have become increasingly fashionable in the current indie scene, most bands who mine these fields are pupils of either dusty used vinyl, modern label reissues, preceding students of said music or, more than likely, internet communities where found treasures are accessible and in abundance. Not McPhun.
On 2008’s solid Sea Lion, New Zealand’s Ruby Suns were perhaps the first band to do tropicalia pastiche convincingly, paving the way for world-music minded peers like the Very Best and others. With the band’s third album, Fight Softly, Ruby Suns become the first band to blend the electronics of European dance with the stasis of chillwave (which if you haven’t heard, is hotter than shit, still). It’s definitely a shrewd move, since Fight Softly is basically a less-than-stellar Panda Bear album, but it’s also a move in the wrong direction.
Could prove to be this year’s Merriweather, so dazzling is its sunny composition. Mike Diver 2010 Last year’s Animal Collective ascent took many by surprise. Sure, the band had delivered their most accessible album to date with the year-end-list-topping Merriweather Post Pavilion, but such was the group’s cult status that their crossing over into mainstream markets – daytime radio plays, festival headline slots – was a relative revelation.
Galactic Onstage, Galactic is a New Orleans funk band that jams through marathon dance medleys. On its albums, it’s becoming something else: a studio outfit, still funky, that merges hand-played, sampled and programmed tracks and that doubles as a tour guide. “Ya-Ka-May” (Epitaph) is named ….
Remember when bands like Animal Collective actually sounded somewhat unique? I keep coming back to an album like All Hour Cymbals and am still in utter disbelief at how refreshingly glorious it sounds. That was Yeasayer, and before I name-check too many other similar acts, the pull towards the ‘experimentation’ side of music has been somewhat overwhelming. And not because of the music lacking some sort of quality but the problem arises in how strikingly similar it has all begun to sound.