Remember when bands like Animal Collective actually sounded somewhat unique? I keep coming back to an album like All Hour Cymbals and am still in utter disbelief at how refreshingly glorious it sounds. That was Yeasayer, and before I name-check too many other similar acts, the pull towards the ‘experimentation’ side of music has been somewhat overwhelming. And not because of the music lacking some sort of quality but the problem arises in how strikingly similar it has all begun to sound.
Then you take a band like The Ruby Suns, led by Ryan McPhun, that have been quoted as attempting to jam all the sounds they’ve heard around the world into one cohesive joint. And although Sea Lion was more of a commodity than anything else, their latest album, Fight Softly, finds them back drifting into a world of sameness and dreaded repetition. Surprisingly enough, it lacks a strong sense of focus (something the creative basking of Sea Lion honed in on) and for all of its elements of sweeping grandiosity, they never seem to have much of a purpose.
And that’s just it, how much of a purpose – of an aim or pursuit – are you supposed to have when making music? Certainly, after enough time, you’ll find a new direction and take it on with a full head of steam right? Or do you continue to describe your influences as “‘80s New Jack Swing” with “Brazillian tropicalia and Argentinean cumbia.” Believe me when I say that I know what cumbia is and there is no such thing on here. Something as stale as “Two Humans”, with its soaked vocals and thumping drums, comes up lifeless. But, with a song built entirely on a keyboard, it never had a chance.
The strongest dissention is in the obvious fact that very few instruments are being used to create such cacophonies. It just doesn’t make sense, citing the easiest example in that people around the world even make their own instruments just to be able to play something. When you’re branding yourself as someone who travels the world and, in turn, wants to incorporate those found sounds into something new, then why do it all synthetically? When gathering a plan, the songs are still supposed to be the ones’ calling the shots in asking for melodies, harmonies and a few tricks here and there. Instead, it’s the composers, crafting music off pulse-less instruments without so much as an idea of what’s going on around them.
There isn’t anything nearly as good as “Tane Mahuta” to be found anywhere on here either; the results are, indeed, systematic. And often, you’ll find yourself wondering and questioning if this is even the same band that created that exceptionally aforementioned song. Remember those huge chants, those swooning horns and that humongous beat? None of that appears on Fight Softly, not even traces of it. “Cranberry” comes close with its looping variances, but McPhun and his crew comes off as aping Panda Bear more than anything else.
With everything noted, it should also be said that the music isn’t entirely unpleasant. The ideas seem to be honest and the talent is somewhere in there but it’s the treatment of those ideas that goes a long way into deciding an album’s worth. Fight Softly’s problem is deeply rooted in its inability to intrigue and entice and ultimately, just as you drift off, there isn’t enough of an effort to suck you back in. And effort, or lack thereof, is desperately needed here – amongst other things.
“Cranberry” by The Ruby Suns