The Ruby Suns - Sea Lion (Memphis Industries)

Across the course of forty minutes, The Ruby Suns pack in an obscene number of ideas and flourishes, but crucially remember to write some melodies as well.

Released Feb 29th, 2008 via Memphis Industries / By Simon Harper
The Ruby Suns - Sea Lion (Memphis Industries) It somehow seems fitting that The Ruby Suns are signed to Memphis Industries, a label which has given us some of the most blissful, unabashedly melodic records in recent years. With a roster that boasts the likes of Dungen, El Perro Del Mar, Field Music and The Go! Team, the label’s track record for releasing sumptuous and exuberant left-field pop is clearly upheld by the latest album from one of New Zealand’s most gifted bands.

While some of their illustrious counterparts from the land of the silver fern – most notably The Chills and The Clean – worshipped at the altar of Reed and Cale, The Ruby Suns eschew such Velvets-style inspiration, instead preferring to home in on the sound more commonly associated with California. No surprises there, given that mainman Ryan McPhun is actually a native of the sunshine state.

This sophomore full-length starts out with a markedly different tone compared with their self-titled, Brian Wilson-aping debut. Opening track ‘Blue Penguin’ kicks off with nearly two minutes of Six Organs-ish raga-folk and drone textures, before dissolving into lysergic psych-pop. Comparisons with the Elephant 6 collective are fairly obvious but well-founded - they explore strange sounds and woozy atmospheres, but allied with the kind of perfect melodies seldom heard outside of the US indie-pop scene.

Perhaps their nearest sonic cousins are Apples in Stereo, whose jangling psychedelia is faithful to the Wilson watermark, while also being incredibly ambitious. In the time between their debut and this latest offering, though, The Ruby Suns appear to have absorbed a raft of other styles, making Sea Lion a cornucopia of pop. ‘Oh, Mojave’ and ‘Tane Mahuta’ dabble in tribal African folk music, the effect being like David Byrne fronting Surf’s Up era Beach Boys.

‘It’s Mwangi In Front of Me’ approximates Animal Collective’s pop-noise collage, and Phil Spector’s irrepressible Wall of Sound bears its reverb-laden stamp on ‘Kenya Dig It’. But perhaps the most surprising ingredient on the record is McPhun and co’s penchant for synth-pop confection. Album closer ‘Morning Sun’ starts out as a circling Panda Bear-esque labour of love before the gentle waves of feedback give way and morph into brooding electro-pop reminiscent of New Order. ‘There Are Birds’ is even more blatant, being half-way between Saint Etienne and the nonchalant dream-pop of early Stereolab.

Across the course of forty minutes, The Ruby Suns pack in an obscene number of ideas and flourishes, but crucially remember to write some melodies as well – a trick that some of their contemporaries might do well to remember. A welcome progression from their still-excellent debut, Sea Lion is the sound of a band coming to terms with its identity in the most glorious way possible.