The Ruby Suns are fronted by one Ryan McPhun, who was born and raised in Ventura, California, but landed in New Zealand and spent some time along the way in Africa and a variety of other locales. While he was traveling, he carted along his trusty dictaphone, and recorded a variety of sounds as he went, many of which end up as a part of his musical recordings. Sea Lion is the newest effort from the group, and it's easily the most rough and odd sounding release that I've heard on Sub Pop Records in some time. It's also easily one of the most charming.
It's poppy, with little bits of everything from psychedelic, world, and flat-out collage music creeping in. A good portion of songs are guitar driven, but everything from steel-string ukulele to djembe drums to random kitchen-sink percussion make their way into the mix as well, and the ten song, forty-minute release is a charmer that has things in common with everyone from 60s pop groups to the Animal Collective. After opening with a song that's a bit overly-long, Sea Lion really kicks off as "Oh, Mojave" bursts forth with ragged energy that mixes a stomping kick and cracking snares with bouncy acoustic guitar strumming and sing-along vocals fun. "Tane Mahuta" (sung entirely in Maori) is even more buoyant, with more group vocals, lazy horn breakdowns mixed with lap steel, and a general island vibe that's hard to beat.
In places, The Ruby Suns remind me a bit of The Circulatory System, who released one killer album before somewhat disappearing. Songs burst forth from all corners with lush instrumentation and the recording quality of the album itself is a bit on the rough side. "Ole Rinka" is all chimes and sparkling sun refracting off the surface of the water, as a quiet opening section gives way to a glorious psych-pop flourish. The unfortunately-titled "Kenya Dig It?" veers through three distinct sections, and a shimmery sing-along ending blooms out of a noisy, feedback laced bridge that somehow still manages to work.
At times, their collage-pop doesn't quite work as well, and along with the album opening, the album closer of "Morning Sun" is probably one of the weaker songs on the release, as it sounds more like several bedroom jams (including a rather blah synth pop section) thrown together than a thought-out piece. Layered, and a bit rough-around-the-edges, Sean Lion is also a heck of a lot of fun, and marks The Ruby Suns as a young group to keep an eye on.