The Ruby Suns
The Ruby Suns’ third record Fight Softly—the first on acclaimed indie-backer Sub Pop—is a lot of things: happy, evocative, curious, and experimental. But for all the labels and feelings the album conjures and provokes, Fight Softly ends up sounding like a bunch of beats and blips gesticulating wildly instead of a cohesive body of melodies and songs.
That’s not to say it’s bad. Because it’s definitely not. The New Zealand outfit, fronted by Ryan McPhun and his choirboy vocals, knows how to pick intriguing sounds and influences: from rinsed-out calypso and rhythmic drums to jarring electronica, there’s no denying that Fight Softly’s 10 tracks are filled with beautiful sounds, layers and switch-ups (in the form of both key and tempo changes). But there comes a point when McPhun’s thin voice is drowned by the expansive, explosive and, at times, overly dramatic rhythms. It’s not indiscernible, just impossible to take in given the relentless nature of McPhun’s whimsical compositions.
Moving away from a more organic approach to global-tinged song writing, The Ruby Suns are completely plugged in on this record. It’s in the simplistic synths on “Cranberry,” which starts as an electronic call-to-arms but transforms into a series of syncopated digital keystrokes, and the tonal throwback “Haunted House”—a track rendered more cheery than creepy thanks to McPhun’s penchant for playfulness. Most of the time, the blips and bleeps work amidst the marimbas and pans, like on the rising and falling “How Kids Fail” and the trancey “Closet Astrologer,” but in other places the gilt masks ideas that would be interesting if they weren’t submerged in a subterfuge of effects (“Mingus and Pike”).