Poor Ruby Suns. You work for months and months, day and night, in a windowless studio writing, recording and producing your third album, tweaking knobs, perfecting your art and getting all excited about it, only to get to release date to find that numerous other bands with a similar musical style and influence have released their latest critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums before you. Gutted. While Yeasayer, Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes bask in the glory of recent albums that made the public and critics alike sit up and applaud, new album ‘Fight Softly’ from kiwi band The Ruby Suns just sounds like more of the same. And perhaps, dare I say it, not even as good? It’s even more disheartening when you think that The Ruby Suns released their first self titled electro indie pop album in 2005, when ‘Fleet Foxes’ and ‘Odd Blood’ were nothing more than a twinkle in their creators’ eyes.
Ryan McPhun – Californian-born, New Zealand resident, and axis on which The Ruby Suns spin – is clearly an expert in the technical workings of electronica and the ins-and-outs of world music. Every possible synth sound is used to the point of overload on this record, with 80s new-wave chord sequences, afro and tropicalia beats, spiralling sustain, echoing electro vocals and close harmonies coming thick and fast to produce an eclectic, experimental and sometimes challenging sound. Like a kid with a new keyboard for Christmas, every button has been pushed and every effect has been used.
It is an undeniably uplifting and, at times, euphoric record with some genuine feel-good moments, such as stand out track and lead single ‘Cranberry’, which makes you feel like grabbing a Pina Colada, donning a Lei and limboing under the nearest low fence. ‘Closet Astrologer’ is an epic, spacious affair, replete with McPhun’s wavering, delicate vocals, echoing beats, wistful basslines and twinkling keys. What seems to be lacking, however, is a bit of raw emotion. This is a very introverted affair – it is strangely detached, and therefore left me cold.
The influence of such records as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tango In The Night’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ are constantly hovering over this album in such a commanding way that I found myself hankering for “Little Lies” and “Running Up That Hill” rather than “Closet Astrologer” and “Two Humans”. While these two tracks are good, they’re simply not as good as their original influences.
Whether it is because I heard this album after the likes of ‘Odd Blood’ and ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’, or whether it ‘s just not as impressive an album, I was left feeling that ‘Fight Softly’, although interesting, stirring and genuinely enjoyable in places, lacked the innovation, the soul and the jolting originality of it’s contemporaries. Had this record come out a year ago, it might have been a very different story altogether.
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