“I never want to live in real life,” Ryan McPhun trills at the chorus of Christopher‘s second track and he isn’t kidding around. Every sound and word on The Ruby Suns’ fourth album is a barricade against both the harshness and depth of the adult world. On Christopher — the Auckland term for the awkward, hormonal person you were before you learned how to not be awful — McPhun wanders a world bounded by rubbery beats, shivery arpeggios, and waterlogged stabs of synths.
When the Ruby Suns went digital on 2010’s Fight Softly, the record worked best when it jettisoned its excess weight and took a float through the clouds. Christopher might be coated in the same poppy gloss, but it distinguishes itself from the Ruby Suns’ back catalog by perpetually trying to nail itself to the ground.
Throughout most of the record, McPhun squeezes his voice into the ’80s pop mold that dotted the musical landscape of 2012. But Christopher‘s hyper-saturated synths sound less like a reverent throwback and more like Twin Shadow in an irradiated snow globe. The wallop that each chorus aspires to is tempered by sheer sonic clutter.
Aside from opener “Desert of Pop”, which celebrates the time when McPhun got to meet his idol Robyn, Christopher cudgels the listener with darker lyrical themes. For the most part, it’s a breakup record, written after McPhun split from his girlfriend and bandmate. Most tracks ruminate on equal parts frustration and despair; ”I’ve had enough of your drama,” McPhun insists on “Dramatikk”, while ”Futon Fortress” laments the domain of inescapable bachelorhood. References to mental illness drift in and out, personified by lines like, ”Anxiety calls / Haven’t got an answer.” There is mention of a “psychological high school.” “You can’t live if you want to die. Isn’t it obvious?” A bit.
The Ruby Suns have always shone brightest when they kick their shoes to the sand and run with the breeze. As Christopher shows, they’re not quite so hot on the dark stuff.
Essential Tracks: “Rush”