The Ruby Suns: Sea Lion (Lil'Chief/Rhythmethod)

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The Ruby Suns: Adventure Tour
The Ruby Suns: Sea Lion (Lil'Chief/Rhythmethod)

My theory goes like this: there is a unique sound emerging from Auckland -- and specifically from a house just around the corner from me, actually.

The sound is quirky pop which isn't ashamed to acknowledge craftsmen such as Paul McCartney, has its ears turned to the more odd arrangements on Brian Wilson's Beach Boys albums in the late 60s, likes to bewilder or bemuse with strange lyrics but doesn't lose the listener because it keeps the tunes so memorable, and it is always slightly eccentric.

I'd be going too far with this vaguely conceived theory to say it "the Lil'Chief sound" but look at the evidence: those two wonderful albums by the Tokey Tones Caterpillar and Butterfly of 2000*; the albums by the Brunettes, the Ruby Suns . . .

All of these artists are associated with Lil'Chief and most often play on each others albums. A fertile cross-pollination of ideas with instrumentation which includes vibraphone, clarinet and flute, trombone . . .

Hmmm.

This typically quirky album by the Ruby Suns (singer-songwriter Ryan McPhun and various Lil'Chieftains) fits the theory almost too neatly. And as with all the others in this lineage it takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate how clever Sea Lion is (not clever-clever though), and to get into the drifting and slightly elusive qualities it possesses.

First some reference points beyond Lil'Chief: a little of the Beach Boys influence that was evident on the Ruby Suns 2005 debut remains in the widescreen arrangements (McPhun is a son of California) but here the scene shifts more clearly to the Pacific (Oh Mojave is driven by Pasifika guitars and the percussive Tane Mahuta is sung in te reo by something like a "choir"). Although the distant and swirling vocals on the ambient-pop of There Are Birds brings to mind Stone Roses at their most trippy. And more than a few people will whisper "Sigur Ros" when they hear the ethereal and cinematic It's Mwangi in Front of Me.

Adventure Tour could have slipped off an early McCartney album like Red Rose Speedway when the man was still taking a chance or two.

So this album seems to be -- by those references -- all over the place, but what gives it coherence is the sheer effortlessness of it all: simple instruments deployed to maximun effect in cheerful arrangements, production which adds width and space, and the summershine atmosphere (try not smiling during the pure pop of Kenya Dig It?) which is everywhere.

There seems to be some kind of travelogue theme here (consider the titles) and there are some very canny musical cross-references which make themselves known over repeat plays.

This is gently psychedelic music without requiring the drugs (but with sonic effects throughout) which embraces the world with a happy hug and smile on its face -- and the epic final track Morning Sun is the perfect closer, a big hearted 80s sound which rides chiming guitars into another nice day on the planet.

In an age of cynicism the Ruby Suns and Sea Lion are very welcome houseguests. 

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