By Aaron Wolfson
January 29, 2013
The Ruby Suns are led by the irrepressible Ryan McPhun of New Zealand; the bedroom Beach Boy turned hyperactive electro-popper. On their new album, Christopher, they present a tight and cohesive vision, drawing upon an impressive command of melody to create a danceable, refined, and thoroughly delightful experience.
These are not the same Ruby Suns who became indie-mag favorites with 2008’s Sea Lion, featuring luscious harmonies and African rhythms (best exemplified by the classic track, “Tane Mahuta”). Christopher is enveloped by an all-encompassing sheen of layered keys and McPhun’s distorted falsetto, like a mellowed-out Kevin Barnes. Honestly, look at the cover art again.
Indeed, of Montreal’s late-2000s output is the best point of comparison here. The Ruby Suns demonstrate a similar devotion to ‘80s pop with the synth-ballad (and first single) ‘Kingfisher Call Me”, which culminates in an absolutely un-ironic high-register keyboard solo that evokes a Patrick Swayze rom-com montage. ‘Boy’ pairs its triumphant synth blasts with a propelling rhythmic undercurrent of fuzzed-out snares and playful vibes (yes, as in vibraphones).
The highlight however is the following track, ‘Starlight’, which starts innocently enough with a Dismemberment Plan-style drum riff elegant in its effortless simplicity, and some well-placed bongos. Then the Suns drop the hammer with an Inspector Gadget-themed hook and its ensuing electro-funk groove that would seriously not be out of place on a Prince record. Each of the several melodic phrases going on here would be compelling on its own, and together they converge into an irresistible dance number that could endure as one of the year’s best.
Christopher is an album about being yourself, and it’s obvious that after an adventurous period of growth, McPhun’s Ruby Suns has discovered itself as well. It compiles the well-worn devices of synth and studio into a light, modern statement of what electronic pop can be, with melodies sweet enough to melt in your mouth.