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Album Review: The Ruby Suns – Christopher

 
By on Thursday, 24th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Ruby Suns Christopher coverThe Ruby Suns‘ American label Sub Pop Records describes Ryan McPhun as “a musical wayfarer, collecting sounds and styles from his travels around the globe”. ‘Christopher’, the group’s fourth album, was written in Oslo, Norway, after the break-up of McPhun’s romantic relationship, and Sub Pop describes it as an album “about starting over, but not necessarily moving forward”. This is an apt description of the album’s musical content. Its beautiful, icy sonic scenery clearly shows a Scandinavian influence, but it conveys very little action or tension, and while its sound effects are interesting, they don’t seem to serve any particular dramatic purpose.

This album contains surprisingly little of the color and catchiness of The Ruby Suns’ previous work, such as 2010’s ‘Fight Softly’ (review here). Opening track ‘Desert of Pop’ is a shimmery, high gloss dance number, which is catchy in the moment, but doesn’t stick to the ears after it ends. The album ends similarly, with the upbeat but largely static ‘Heart Attack’. The sterile, highly-polished electronic sounds and McPhun’s thin, sleek falsetto vocals are hypnotically pretty but often obscure the songs’ lyrics. This is particularly unfortunate, as ‘Christopher’ was apparently conceived as something of a story, following the metaphorical title character through his mirroring of McPhun’s own coming of age.

The most memorable song on ‘Christopher’ comes early in the sequence. In ‘Real Life’, the album’s second track, uses heavy drums and a catchy chorus (“I never want to live in real life / I’m not ready for the real life”) to break through the glossy sheen of its highly-produced, electronic sound. This song is one of the album’s few moments of lyrical clarity, and the lyrics are thought-provoking, like for example, “whenever you are, I’m already then / if then is now, then now is never.”

Beyond those three tracks, the album is largely unremarkable, aside from a few a few randomly scattered moments of sonic interest. Its trance-like ambience would provide nice background music for some other activity, but it isn’t particularly engaging in and of itself.

Within the context of The Ruby Suns’ oeuvre, ‘Christopher’ is an accurate portrait of where McPhun was in the time of the album’s inception. Taken out of context, the album lacks focus and dramatic interest. The bright sonic shimmer blinds the listener and distorts the dramatic view from that narrow vantage point. However, if each Ruby Suns album is taken from a broader perspective as a portrait of its own physical or emotional setting, the album’s vivid depiction of Scandinavia’s icy insularity, as well as the cold isolation following the end of a romance, fits in quite nicely.

5/10

‘Christopher’, the new album from The Ruby Suns, will be out on the 28th of January on Memphis Industries in the UK. The American release follows the next day on Sub Pop. You can download the track ‘Kingfisher Call Me’ from the album from this previous MP3 of the Day post.

 

In the Post #98: Stornoway return with new single ‘Knock Me on the Head’

 
By on Friday, 18th January 2013 at 1:00 pm
 

Having chosen the name Stornoway, after the Scottish seaport town as explained by singer Brian Briggs in this 2011 interview with us, this band seems to have been destined to write music with some kind of nautical theme. Their new album’s title, ‘Tales From Terra Firma’, implies the ocean by mention of its opposite (indeed, the album’s cover art features frothy waves).

But its first single, ‘Knock Me on the Head’, has a very definite maritime sound. A majestic instrumental introduction, with a pentatonic tinge suggestive of Oriental seas, blends seamlessly into the mellow guitar pop that Stornoway have become known for. While the intro has very little musical or thematic relation to the body of the song, it does provide a hook for the listener’s ear, drawing attention to Brian Briggs’ lilting voice and cerebral lyrics.

The song’s chorus is certainly catchy enough to hold its own; I found myself singing along with it after only one casual listen. The lyrical melodies and sweet vocal harmonies, along with Stornoway’s unique instrumental arrangements, will be pleasantly familiar to fans eagerly awaiting the band’s sophomore effort. But if the exotic orchestral sound of the intro is to be taken as an indication, Stornoway have bravely ventured into some new musical ground, and possibly new musical seas as well.

8.5/10

‘Tales From Terra Firma’, the follow-up to Stornoway’s 2010 ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’, will be out on the 11th of March on 4AD. Catch the band on their UK tour, starting in early March.

 
 
 

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