Perfect Sound Forever

The Ruby Suns

by Damien Girling
(April 2010)

There are moments in time that seem locked between reality and dream, blurring into a wonderful fusion, where everything seems to be possible and becomes so. To listen to indie mavericks the Ruby Suns is to live through such an experience, making them one of the best bands that no-one has heard of.

Much has been made of band leader Ryan McPhun's appetite for traveling- he believes this stems from journalists plagiarising the band's MySpace biography for that bit of detail. What is actually important to know are two other details: McPhun's relocation from California to New Zealand and his journeys through ambient lands. Once in New Zealand, McPhun ingratiated himself into the burgeoning music scene by playing in a host of bands, most notably the Brunettes. However, the desire to imprint his creative instinct completely onto his music led him to form Ryan McPhun and the Ruby Suns in 2004. Initially a five piece, the band currently consist of McPhun, Amee Robinson and Bevan Smith and are now simply called the Ruby Suns.

In 2005, they released their eponymous debut, which drew comparisons with the pristine melodies of the Shins. Their second release (2008's Sea Lion) saw them evolving their musical horizons, with McPhun demonstrating that his lust for travel was driven by a desire to absorb different cultures. He displayed this in the sample noises recorded on his Dictaphone which augmented the albums atmospheric tone. Sea Lion was afforded widespread critical acclaim, with writers making reference to its eclecticism, ambience and strong pop sensibility. The band's live shows were also revered for the energy that they added to their already effervescent songs, leaving the audience caught amidst a wave of halcyon soundscapes.

But tragically, the Ruby Suns are still largely unknown. Writer Billy Hamilton lamented that a "measly 29 people" bore witness to their "extraordinary sonic spectrum," when he saw them play Atlanta's Drunken Unicorn.

It's easy to find reasons to afford the Ruby Suns wider recognition- their intriguing background, sincerity and playfulness, candour, or simply that they retained their integrity despite allowing one of their songs to grace a Microsoft commercial ("Oh, Mojave"). As with any great band though, the primary reason to give them attention is the music, and theirs is outstanding.

Their debut should be regarded as a reference point for their desire to evolve and progress. What shines through on this record is their clear pop sensibility and ebullient melodies. Such an appreciation for pop dynamics is no surprise when songwriter McPhun admits wanting to sound like Nirvana once he began playing music. Furthermore, McPhun counts the Beach Boys and the Beatles amongst his primary influences. In Kurt Cobain, Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney, the Ruby Suns take inspiration from four of the most gifted pop music writers ever to pick up an instrument. Taking this pop education as the foundation for their music, it is on their sophomore release, Sea Lion, where the scale of the Ruby Suns creative brilliance is brought to the fore.

Constructed around the same appreciation for gorgeous melodies, Sea Lion takes pop songs and stretches them out into something magical, by adding world music influences, ambient electronic effects and spacious background noises. The result is one of beautiful disconcertion. Within the context of a single song, the listener is lulled into a state of dream like bliss, the type My Bloody Valentine made their name by, but held in the immediacy of its pop moment. This is music to return you to the magic of childhood dreams and participate actively in them. Songs such as "There are Birds," which contains the most exuberant 47 seconds of music heard since the Eels "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," "It's Mwangi In Front OF Me" and "Blue Penguin" epitomising this glorious high.

Frankly, any CD collection that is missing Sea Lion is naked. So good is it that if the world were a just and fair place, then this album would have been replete with honours. As it is, the band's relative anonymity means most people won't have heard of, let alone own it. Not one to rest on the brilliance of past outputs, McPhun has stressed that the band's next album will move beyond the buoyancy of Sea Lion, adopting a colder, more 'passive aggressive' approach. Such willingness to disregard the niche that they had carved out for themselves presents a further reason everyone should be aware of the Ruby Suns- their desire to challenge themselves in pursuit of creating greater music.

Kurt Cobain once remarked how the Beatles went from "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in four years. The Ruby Suns did so in three. Such is their commitment to continuous evolution that one wonders what they might sound like by the time that they reach album eight. How many other contemporary bands can weld together such a myriad of genres with the ease and grace as the Ruby Suns? Perhaps only the brilliant Animal Collective. The sincerity of their commitment to evolution stems from the sincerity of their characters.

In every interview, the most immediate impression of its band members is their inherent decency and earnestness. Some bands invoke bitter jealously when success befalls them, their perceived arrogance making the notion that anyone would accord such individuals any degree of reverence distasteful. Not so with the Ruby Suns. One feels inclined to wish success upon them, for all music fans to welcome them into their hearts. They are also humble. Despite creating beautiful music, they seem more interested in promoting bands they have gigged with, and enjoy listening to, than their own.

Perhaps the most important reason everyone should be aware of the Ruby Suns is the genius of McPhun. It has been six long years since Elliott Smith died, taking with him the last true genius to grace the indie music scene. Since then the case for Pete Doherty has been pressed and dismissed, with no talisman emerging to fill the void in the indie music scene. McPhun could be that figure.

Many writers have paid homage to the Ruby Suns' debt to the Beach Boys, yet none have considered the potential for McPhun to become a figure as brilliant as Brian Wilson. Wilson was a man whose desire for complete control over his musical destiny, the writing and recording of songs, helped to cast him as a musical genius. McPhun is similarly responsible for the output of the Ruby Suns, taking total ownership of the writing and recording of their music. It took Wilson a number of albums to begin to truly display the creative genius that drips over his most potent recordings, whereas with McPhun, he has hinted at it after two. Could he then become a figure to be remembered for years to come as a musical genius? Assessment will have to be left until he has at least released his third album, but the signs are certainly promising. What is beyond debate is that the Ruby Suns are a band that everyone should be aware of, starting now.

Also see the Ruby Suns website

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