The Ruby Suns - Fight Softly
Let's start with honesty. I didn't know who The Ruby Suns were until about 3 weeks ago. My buddy Dusty who works at the Starbucks I frequent during one of my up to three coffee runs per day (Yes, it's a disgusting addiction, and yet I embrace it like a koala embraces a eucalyptus tree trunk... also, koalas technically get a little high every time they eat their dietary staple--hence the big, dilated eyeballs.) first told me about them because they're performing live at the Hi-Dive in Denver in April. My first investigations of the band were of an in-passing style, I just checked their work out online, but didn't fully absorb it. But, luckily, on one of my near-weekly record store trips, I found both their highly-rated 2008 release Sea Lion and the new Fight Softly. Over the course of a couple of evenings' listening sessions I took a crash course in The Ruby Suns. Their high-stylized electro-pop has some parts Vampire Weekend, some parts Hot Chip and some parts Pet Shop Boys, with even a sprinkling of Animal Collective (accessible Animal Collective specifically). It's fun, dance-inducing, funky, sometimes African-inspired pop music that can be effectively wispy and memorable.
Really, Sea Lion is the more grossly enjoyable album. It feels innovative and exciting. Each new track diverts just enough from the last that the whole disc feels alive. The Ruby Suns created something special that was brand new in 2008, it didn't try to emulate MGMT, but brought its own fluttering, beat-driven style. So, after listening to Sea Lion I took a crack at Fight Softly, which is definitely the inferior album of the two, but only fractionally so. Fight Softly throws a lot more synthesizer into the mix, giving it a never overbearing '80s vibe. The problem lies in Sea Lion's virtue. Fight Softly is good, but it doesn't sport a lot of variation. The tracks blend together a bit, and that makes the album travel by quickly with less resonance. The great albums always seem to pique interest at every turn. Look at Radiohead's OK Computer or Kid A, or even Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM. Those albums are fueled by diversity. Each song is linked more by the band that's playing it rather than merely the sound. I guess it's a matter of getting too tied up in a gimmick. And I know I just said the synthesizer is good. It definitely adds a strong tone and quality, but it may have overwhelmed the creativity just the same.
Regardless, The Ruby Suns are worth a look. I'm always thankful for friends sharing their musical interests with me. And as I grow older I realize that all those lines I drew in the audio sand (no country, no rap, no etc., etc.) were completely arbitrary. Good music is good regardless of the way it exists. The Ruby Suns are a great dance-electro-pop indie band, and they have at least shown the ability and interest in experimentation that prevents a laundry list of mediocre albums following a single good one. Even if I don't like Fight Softly as much as I do Sea Lion, I can respect their attempt at something thematically greater. One is an 8 and the other a 6, but both have their merit. No one's failing this class this semester.
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