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Ruby Suns

Fight Softly

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Label: Sub Pop

New Zealand’s Ruby Suns are probably pretty low on bands we’re absolutely dying to hear more from. Their breakout Sea Lion, while entirely pleasant, was not exactly seminal, or even all that promising – ending up a cutesy diversion in a pre-chillwave world. And well, their latest Fight Softly is entirely and unabashedly a cutesy diversion, but this time it’s released in a market utterly swollen with bands trying to evoke the same feeling – and unfortunately, Ruby Suns are not the best, or the most adventurous act of the bunch.

It would be a bit of a misnomer to assign Ruby Suns the same chillwave/glo-fi/dreambeat brand blogs have been passing around as of late. After all they’ve been active since 2003 – but you could say that Fight Softly is least inspired by recent developments. The album spends most of its time in wobbly electro and lush, childlike imagery that the faux-genre is founded on, and when that doesn’t work (it doesn’t often), it simply puts on its best Merriweather and hopes you won’t notice the uncanny resemblance. So yeah, not the most creative record, but that’s just semantics right? Plenty of great unoriginal records have been made. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a great album and if Fight Softly at least kinda sounds like it, it should be at least somewhat listenable right, right?

You know that part about halfway through “Lion in a Coma” where all the sounds sort of smash together in an aimless discord and all the momentum that has built up to that point is put on hiatus while Panda Bear and company try to unstuck themselves? It’s pretty much the one part of Merriweather that doesn’t sound painstakingly thought out. Well, that’s where Fight Softly ends up when it tries to counterfeit Animal Collective. The songs always have some sort of a beat, and the synth line is a catchy of course, but they lack a distinct sense of purpose – like they don’t know where they want to go, or more disturbingly, who they want to be. They’re my parents at the R. Kelly show, or me at the Lady Gaga show – clunking around their running times blindly, before dissolving into an unceremonious (and usually annoyingly lengthy) fade out. They’re all full of good intentions and a few of them (“Cranberry,” “Olympics on Pot”) get decently close to their ambition, but for the most part they’re small glimmers of direction in the midst of a flawed, deeply awkward record.

To be fair, Fight Softly is more mediocre than it is bad, it’s still, you know, music and to the uninitiated, I imagine it sounds a hell of a lot better than it did to me. But it’s played with such imprecision, and more damningly, inconsistency that it ends up being a pretty hard sell. Longtime fans will obviously be appeased, but for those of us less inclined, it’s a definite pass. But you probably already knew that coming in.

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