The Ruby Suns: Fight Softly (Li'l Chief)

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The Ruby Suns: Dusty Fruit
The Ruby Suns: Fight Softly (Li'l Chief)

The dreamy pop landscape that Ryan McPhun, mainman behind the Ruby Suns, conjures up usually wouldn't sound too far removed from that of bands on the PopFrenzy label which Elsewhere has always favoured.

The last Ruby Suns album Sea Lion had an identifiable pop-folkadelic quality coming from the Pacific Rim (he's a Californian transplanted to New Zealand) but this time out there is a palpable shift (yes, it hits so you can feel it) towards electronic pop, some of which could be traced back to the exoticism of the Tropicalia movement out of Brazil in the Sixties and the likes of Tom Ze.

But the electronics here are less melodic than rhythmic in their application: Cranberry for example is driven by punctuating electrobeats. It is immediately memorable (although the melody is repeatedly interrupted), but is the least engaging track on an album that flirts dangerously with losing the human touch which has been this group's hallmark (notably on the emotionally distant, mini-epic Closet Astrologer which comes from the Pet Shop Boys end of the spectrum).

However the highpoints are numerous on an album where there is as much pleasure to be taken in the detail as there is joy in the grand sweep. Cinco is a bubbling and boiling delight which references Beach Boys pop and Eighties synth-pop equally, and How Kids Fail and Dusty Fruit towards the end make for a menacing double bill of aural delight in their arrangements, the closer Olympics on Pot is a polished gem.

This is a sonically busy album where electro-graffiti fills gaps, and that makes it a rather more difficult proposition than its predecessor (a shame there's no lyric sheet, what is decipherable is interesting) -- but for the most part this is such bright, clever and vibrant music that it will reward repeat plays and inspection for some time to come.

Whether it can be taken to the heart in quite the same way as the earlier work is the question that only each listener will be able answer.


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