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Ris Paul Ric - Purple Blaze

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Artist: Ris Paul Ric

Album: Purple Blaze

Label: Academy Fight Song

Review date: Nov. 3, 2005

It’s such a huge step when you think about it: the solo album. Member of popular band moves on after said band’s demise, with an exit strategy diametrically opposite from where the old outlet took music. This is the big time, kid. Don’t blow it.

Now batting for a solo career: Chris Richards, guitarist and vocalist in Q and Not U, an important band to youth and young people all over the world. His outlet: Ris Paul Ric, and the agenda: an acoustic guitar, nimble fingers and a clear falsetto. Secret weapon: Tim Hecker, Montreal techno head gone forceful ambient prime mover. Recipe for disaster – the promise of major-chord disco pop power sugar boogers diced up by harsh filtering electronic hokum. That’s a worst case scenario. So would be a plaintive, sitting-alone-in-the-corner effort that can also plague those formerly bonded frontman types cut free without a net.

It’s a pleasure to report that Purple Blaze avoids both of these pitfalls, as well as many others. Richards’ clean break from the band comes in the form of a confident playing style, steeped heavily in what might count as the sounds of his youth: Off the Wall, chilly British goth-pop a la the Chameleons UK, his parents’ Simon & Garfunkel LPs, perhaps some bossa nova along the way. His breathless inflection, gracefully lurid lyrics and hustle on the guitar recall another name, though: Mark Robinson, late of Unrest, Air Miami and the Teenbeat empire. A fellow DC native and teenage wonder, Robinson and Richards share more sonic common ground here than either might care to admit: both are singing for girl-supper in so many ways, unafraid to experiment in song style and structure; both leave their ink-stained fingerprints all over the proceedings. Amidst tremulous clatter and what sounds like a steel drum being thrown down stairs, the record snaps off the block with the title track, a busy, lilting pop race that sounds like it’s being played on a 20 foot tall guitar. Deep in canopy jungle across the world from the frigid Canadian studio this was made in, Richards invites the ladies to “Run Up Wild on Me,” sounding like the days when Michael Jackson was earnest or Justin Timberlake less stricken with his own self, in a forest of bleeps and bustling handclap energy. Somberly sleepwalking through a pair of ambient tracks, a darker side emerges in “Valerie Teardrop,” where Richards takes an unseen acquaintance under some sort of emotional hostage situation (“Freedom is so easy / If you say my name”) and through the icy brace of album closer “Daft Young Cannibals,” accomplishing some of the starkness that sounds positively forced on professional outfits like Interpol or Prosaics.

Hecker’s role is in the background, to be sure, but he holds the putrid standards set by other fey singer-songwriter-meet-laptop collabs like the Postal Service and lays to rest their hackneyed conventions; his production adds striking depth and clarity to the proceedings with touches as gentle as well-placed reverb, wilderness sounds, the rush of passing cars outside the studio. He’s not interested in doing much more than making what’s here stand out more, and aside from some unfortunate use of time-delay on Richards’s strumming, his bag of tricks has taste and decorum down in the bottom.

Purple Blaze has the material and the determination to become a dorm room classic, but the intelligence and restraint shown here lead to far more. It’s sentimental, explicit pop for people who don’t need their own pimply emotions whined back at them, and if Richards keeps up this level of quality on future releases, the world is his, ready to take.

By Doug Mosurock

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