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April 7, 2008 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Album Review – The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion

With all the attention Sea Lion, the sophomore effort from Aucklandbased psychedelic pop kids The Ruby Suns, has been getting in the international web press, you’d be forgiven for approaching the album with caution. Pitchfork has been horrendously wrong before – remember what happened with Jens Lekman?

The marvellous thing is, Sea Lion is everything it’s cracked up to be; a wonderfully loose and bright arrangement of musical influences and pop aesthetic that charms the listener with it’s rough-at-the-edges tones of colour and warmth.

Opener ‘Blue Penguin’ lets you know what you’re in for, stretching and yawning with a simple plucked guitar melody layered with tape hiss and household noise before kicking off the duvet and rolling off into a breezy campfire strum that can’t possibly be ignored. The Ruby Suns brainchild Ryan McPhun’s reverb-drenched voice slides through the mix like honey, and before long the song is over.

It’s this restless sense of eclecticism and impatience that makes Sea Lion so endearing. McPhun and co. can’t keep still, constantly shifting their balance from straightforward pop strummers to moody instrumental passages laced with African rhythmic flourishes. This frantic energy can be mildly frustrating at times, especially to those expecting straight-laced songs, but it makes for a damn interesting ride.

‘Tane Mahuta’ captures this energy perfectly. Sung in Māori and soaked in South-Pacific traditional melodies, this sing-along jam gains momentum as it rolls along, picking up bursts of horn and stabs of flamenco guitar on its way. ‘Adventure Tour’ is another intoxicatingly energetic track, a sugar-sweet number that recounts (among other things) camping at Farewell Spit and the narrator’s experiences with “fishes from Mauritius”.

Elsewhere, things are a little calmer. ‘Remember’ is a more sedate track that carries the listener along with its sunny horn fanfares and submerged drums. After the intense sing-along noise of some of the other tracks here, the album’s few sleepy moments are most definitely a welcome change in pace.

Album closer ‘Morning Sun’ brings the story to an end with its soft vocal harmonies and layered reverberations, quietly assuring the listener not to worry, that “we’ll meet again”. It was perhaps a wee mistake to include the 80s kitsch of ‘Give Advice’ (a track included in last year’s Lichen Ears EP) as a final distracting add-on to an already full-sounding record, but given the album’s fuzzy contours and hazy amalgamation of styles and influences, anything goes.

Sea Lion is a dense pop statement, a loose assortment of sounds, rhythms and influences that yields more with each spin. Although The Ruby Suns’ general refusal to concentrate on any single linear sound will no doubt frustrate some listeners, those of us who appreciate eclecticism will be consumed by this record. This is true pop pick’n’mix.


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Comments (6)

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  1. Brannavan says:

    What’s wrong with Jens Lekman?

  2. Tom says:

    I think he’s overrated, especially his ‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’ album.

  3. Brannavan says:

    Just interested. Doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Ruby Suns…

  4. Tom says:

    My point was that both bands have been given rather glowing reviews by, which can often lead to an unfair amount of expectation being placed on an album. In the case of the Suns, I think these expectations were justified, but in the case of Lekman, I was expecting an outstanding album, and was fairly disappointed.

  5. Brannavan says:

    That’s cool, I just wanted to jump to the defence of Mr. Lekman whom I enjoy very much. (It’s a pet-hate of mine that artists often seem to get knocked in reviews when they’re totally unconnected to the review subject – it seems to happen everywhere though). But I must say I’m enjoying the music pages this year, great to see good, opinionated writing (even if I disagree).

  6. Tom says:

    Fair enough, thanks for reading.

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