Rubies - "I Feel Electric (TieDye RMX)" (I Feel Electric EP)
Rubies make disco music for devotees of Miranda July. Like July, they’re masters of expressing a childlike fascination with the meanings and workings of the adult world, particularly relationships. And in the act of expressing it, something threatening and unresolved is revealed alongside sentiments that wouldn’t be out of place in a Yoplait commercial. Considering their formal connections — members of Kings of Convenience and the Concretes as well as Leslie Feist appear on their new album — it’s not surprising that Explode from the Center fits in neatly with those millennial acts’ tendency to deliver major pop thrills while flaunting their understatement. Daniel Levin Becker’s review of Whitest Boy Alive’s latest, Rules, pinpoints these kindred spirits’ recent reorientation towards “shag carpet and adult situations,” a world not far removed from Rubies’ watercolor dancefloor.
A big part of the interest in this music is its banality: a guitar loop, a 3-2-1 Contact synth patch, or lyric can convert a song’s subject into a nu-New Age abstraction. On “Room Without A Key,” singer Simone Rubi begins the album with the makings of a very good OK Cupid profile when she sings, “I could show you how the waves grow/ I might be more than you’re after, my darling/ or maybe not enough.” The grown-and-sexy sentiment is underscored by the same lite funk that tracked Rules. This easily bleeds into “Too Bright,” a song that calls to mind Belle and Sebastian if they were Sea and Caked into waiting-room lounge ambience. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, and Rubies do little to sanitize the emotions they convey even when their music’s seemingly frictionless.
Still, “I Feel Electric” is the song with the most traction here, against which the rest of the album has the distinctive sheen of Internet-era bathos. Like Whitest Boy Alive’s “Courage,” the song insists on its ever-dilating chorus; unlike that song, it also never seems to stop unpacking details from its absurdly small steamer trunk. In terms of presentation, Rubies make humble magic for lowered expectations. It’s not their fault, and if the band’s overall tastefulness fits in with the resurgent L.A. aesthetic, it also makes music infinitely more listenable than equally skilled self-promoters like The Sads.
On the other hand, the album’s lulls make me wonder why I’m not just listening to Rules instead, whose filler at least sustains the album’s bone-dry groove. “Turquoise” is a mellow enough canyon jam, but its chorus is the moment when you realize that what you thought was an easy smile is a rictus. The feeling I can’t escape when listening to Explode from the Center as an album proper is that when music’s written and presented with such a clear desire to befriend the listener, it’s that much easier to feel put out by it. There’s a dull, stifling quality to music obsessed with crafting perfect melodies, too. Rubies bear that typically Scandinavian genetic mutation, and we’re a few sweet summer jams richer because of it, but the diminishing returns of album concluder “The Truth and the Lies” are exponential and will lead you to wonder how long until the band gets tapped to soundtrack a quirky/somber indie comedy. If these songs were attached to images, at least, their demands would seem easier and more reasonable for the listener to meet. As it stands, Explode from the Center is simply very good, high-maintenance background music and (surprise) one Internet hit.