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Album Review

by The Ruby Suns

Sub Pop

Review Date
5th March 2013
Reviewed by
Hannah Cooke

There’s a sense of liberation in Christopher, the fourth and latest release from The Ruby Suns. It’s a break up album, dealing with unresolved feelings and regrets against a free-wheeling, optimistic aural backdrop.

With Christopher, Ryan McPhun has continued the stylistic shift, started in 2010 with Fight Softly, away from the psych-pop sound that characterised the group’s earlier albums (2006’s The Ruby Suns and 2008 Sea Lion). This is a definitely a disco record, high-shine and full of energy. Happily the lyrics, casually comedic and often depressingly earnest, keep things from getting sickly sweet. 'Futon Fortress', about, well, not getting out of bed, is a veritable party anthem for those dealing with post-breakup mopes, and 'Rush', with it's 'Time After Time' tune and sweeping sound-scapes, is as depressing, lyric wise, as possible: “You’re far side of that open doorway / But you don’t live here anymore / You and me / Didn’t want that evil getting back”.

The album starts with 'Desert of Pop', a declaration of intent inspired by McPhun’s experience of a Robyn concert – discovering something amazing and unique in a rather bleak pop landscape. In fact, it is easy to imagine someone like the Swedish star doing a fantastic version of the song. McPhun’s falsetto is the star of this show: it trips lightly over the driving rhythms and winding synths, perfectly simulating a cool, disinterested, eighties sound.

Christopher’s eighties influence reaches an apex on 'Kingfisher Call Me' which features a fade out over a long and excellent keyboard solo (always appreciated) while 'Dramatikk', the album’s centrepiece, is a glorious mix of harmonies, hooks and thudding drums – the keyboards spiral and dive as McPhun sings the refrain, “we’re living in a teen dra-a-ma”. The album sounds like a John Hughes soundtrack, so while listening to the record, you almost are.

Critics have bemoaned The Ruby Suns shift from psych to synth pop in recent years. Perhaps the band has lost a little of the difference and newness that was so lauded in their earlier albums. Some might say that melancholic electro-pop isn’t exactly a great leap forward, and its understandable that fans could be puzzled by this break from the group’s much celebrated early sound. But Christopher could almost be a lost Magnetic Fields party album, so this change in style is hardly something to angrily shake fists at the sky over.

About half of Christopher was recorded in Norway. You can feel it. The album is a little chilly, and despite the (almost too) personal lyrics, its not a record that makes you feel especially emotional. These are robot love songs for a cold climate. Live shows are where Christopher will warm up and come into it’s own, with the distance between band and audience overcome, witnessing the effort it must take to perform these songs live. You can be sure of one thing - it will be really fun to dance to.


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