What's On The Hi-Fi Interview with The Ruby Suns

Maybe it’s the album’s infectious and hyper blend of tropicalia and modern pop, or the synth riffs and warped beats, or the exciting change-up unpredictability. Whatever the reason, we find ourselves coming back to bask in the melodic sunshine of the new release Fight Softly from New Zealand’s adventurers The Ruby Suns.

Fight Softly is out now on Lil’ Chief Records,Sub Pop, and Memphis Industries.

Listen to “Cranberry” MP3

We caught up with the band’s frontman, songwriter and producer, Ryan McPhun, who shares with What’s On The Hi-Fi what got him excited about making music, how the new release took shape and a few of the tracks which are now making the rounds on Ryan’s hi-fi.

Is there any particular album that you heard growing up that made you excited about making music?
I loved Michael Jackson when I was a kid. My sister and I used to dance on top of our upside down laundry baskets. I also loved Phil Collins and Hall and Oates. When I was about 9 in the early 90’s I started getting into gangster rap, funnily enough. I think the funky drum beats attracted me to them. I started playing drums a couple years later.

We understand that you are originally from California and moved to Auckland a few years back. What brought you to New Zealand?
I'm an New Zealand citizen, so it has always been an easy option for me. I had been going to university in Los Angeles, and I'd had enough of it and wanted something new so I headed to New Zealand. I also had started seeing someone from New Zealand who I'd met on a prior trip there so I wanted to hang out with her some more.

Could you tell us a bit about how the band’s third album Fight Softly took shape? Were there any particular influences or motivations?
It was a pretty long process. I started a few songs in '08 that were sort of a continuation of what I was trying to do on Sea Lion [2007]. The ones with a little tropical flavour. But when I went to write the bulk of the songs, I wanted to do something a bit different to that. I wanted the songs to be a bit more pop, while still being challenging in some way. There are definitely touchstones throughout the album. I was listening to Tango In the Night (Fleetwood Mac) a bunch and was getting really inspired (again) by Bad by Michael Jackson. I was also getting more and more into heaps of different dance music.

How did you approach the engineering / production of Fight Softly?
I used a lot more samples this time around. Whether it is drums from sample sets or little snippets of songs. So a lot of the tracks have a more electronic base to them. I mostly would plug synthesizers and keyboards and even guitars straight into my sound card, and I would effect them in my recording program. My friend Bevan Smith (signer, ex-Ruby Suns) also helped a bit with production and sound ideas. I would send him demos, and he would tell me what he thought. In some songs he added some sounds or instruments, and for 'two humas' he even wrote the outro vocal melody and lyrics. He's been writing, producing music with Signer, Aspen, and Skallander for years, and he's one of my favourite producers around.

You are out now on a busy tour schedule (including 15 May at Point Ephémère (Paris)). Any stops that you are particularly looking forward to playing?
Definitely looking forward to the Paris show. I was nervous about the New York show ‘cause it's a big venue, but it ended up being sold out, and we went bowling at the venue (also a bowling alley) ‘til they closed at 4am. Amazing. I'm really looking forward to coming back to Europe though. There's a few festivals we might be doing that look amazing.

We read that you enjoyed spending some time off in Paris last year. What is it about Paris that appeals to you?
I actually haven’t spent too much time in Paris. But the time I've spent there has been great. The coffee and food and wine blow me away every time. Our last show there was with some friends of ours from the States, and we had the best time.

What is the most ridiculous question you get asked about New Zealand?
I think a recent question was: So, where is Hobbiton?

What is on your hi-fi at the moment?
Alicia Keys, “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart”: Such an amazing song. I love her voice in this track and I love the melodies and the ascending synth chords.

Oh No Ono, “Eleanor Speaks” (Caribou Remix): I like the Oh No Ono album, but this remix by Dan Snaith (Caribou) blows me away. Its got such an amazing techno swing to it. The sounds are incredible. I wish I could produce like that guy!

Smith and Thomas, “Even If You Try”: One of my bud Bevan Smith's projects. This track has a nice housey feel to it and beautiful melodies.

Arthur Russell, “Springfield”: I've listened to this track so many times, but i'm still not sick of it. He's one of my very favourite vocalists and a big influence on my singing, especially for Fight Softly. It's a long jammy track but has the most amazing keyboard riffs ever, with perhaps Russell's best vocal melodies.

Michael Jackson, “Another Part of Me”: listened to this track pretty much on repeat while making Fight Softly.

Dizzee Rascal, “Tongue n’Cheek”: Don't know why I haven't listened to this album until fairly recently, but I really love it. The production is really great, and the songs are great. The track where he talks about getting blowjobs from complete strangers is particularly, uh, interesting.

MySpace | Lil’ Chief Records | Sub Pop | Memphis Industries

What's On The Hi-Fi picks 5 Les Femmes S’en Mêlent shows in Paris

Le festival musical itinérant Les Femmes S’en Mêlent entame sa treizième édition cette année!

The Les Femmes s'en Mêlent (The Women Mix It Up) festival is back for its 13th annual installment. This festival pulls together an eclectic mix of independent female artists, with shows throughout France from 18 March through 3 April. For the complete line-up, check out the website for Les Femmes s'en Mêlent. Also, watch a teaser trailer for the festival here.

What's On The Hi-Fi picks Les Femmes s'en Mêlent Top Five Shows - Paris. Click here or the image below for the complete list.

Track of the Day… "Everything Purple" from 800Beloved


"Everything Purple" from Everything Purple
6 April on Moodgadget

Listen to "Everything Purple" MP3

Hailing from Michigan, 800beloved is Sean Lynch (vocals/songwriting), Anastasiya "Stacy" Metesheva (bass) and Scott Masson (drums). And contrary to what some may expect when they hear of Sean's day job working at the family funeral home, the band's second release Everything Purple bears no kinship to goth or more macabre sounds. Rather, 800beloved's sound is a bright and dreamy homage to love, obsession and watery landscapes, borne out of dreams of purple. The title track from Everything Purple is unmixed and features Sean's measured baritone over jangly and melodious guitars and lo-fi drums. A sound which, along with that of the other tracks on the album, remains organic and retains a characteristic richness.

Moodgadget has set up an Everything Purple mini-site where you can stream the upcoming release and download a free MP3 of "Everything Purple".

"If temptation's red as our eyes are blue, together we'll make everything purple".

"Everything Purple"
"Surf's Up"
"Slasher Flick"
"If Butterflies Never Burned"
"No More Unicorns"

MySpace | Twitter | Moodgadget

Track of the Day..."Hammock" from MillionYoung


From Be So True (EP)
Arcade Sound Ltd (2010)

Listen to "Hammock" MP3

First off, MillionYoung is not a one trick pony as many electronic artists seem to be. With several good tracks making the rotation right now you should expect to see this South Florida button pusher around for years to come.

"Hammock" is just one of our highlights but you can find several other outstanding tracks at his official site below.

Official | MySpace

Track of the Day..."None Shall Sleep" from Pepper Rabbit

Pepper Rabbit

"None Shall Sleep"
From Clicks (EP)
BFM Digital (2009)

Listen to "None Shall Sleep" MP3

California duo Pepper Rabbit has created a superbly languid, emotionally redolent and harmony rich track with “None Shall Sleep” off their Clicks EP. Band members and multi-instrumentalists Xander Singh and Luc Laurent throw the kitchen sink of sounds on the cut but weave them all together masterfully. Their eclectic offering is most apparent in the percussion of the song in which you can happily get lost. Dreamy layers of bongos and shakers mix with just enough electronic beats to make for a sublime pairing with Singh’s ethereal callings.

Along with Clicks the band also released a companion EP entitled Shakes that includes the equally impressive “Red Wine.” Check out the video for that track here and you get to really see these creative gents at work.

Definitely keep your ears perked for more from these guys in the years ahead.

Myspace |Twitter: @pepper_rabbit

What's On The Hi-Fi…Trouble Books Album Review

Trouble Books

Gathered Tones
CD available on Own Records / Green vinyl available through Bark and Hiss / MIE Music

Listen to "Past the New Parking Deck" MP3

With this three-piece, the devil is in the detail. As on the band's 2008 release The United Colour of Trouble Books, the tracks on Gathered Tones are an intricate mash-up of percolating bleeps, found sounds, and treatments. The naive vocals forego the reliance on choruses. And for that matter, tracks often forego a continuing reliance on vocals, with instrumentation taking over and ushering songs away until they completely unfold ("Arms Full of Lemons", "Dusk Accelerator").

Gathered Tones is a tight collection of tracks which together create a warm spaciousness, conjuring up washed-out images of locations and stories ("Houseplants", "Abandoned Monorail Station"). The track "Past the New Parking Deck" is the album's single, a track which sums up the band's sound on this release. Well into the song, the vocalist intones "meet me behind the loading dock for a quick kiss and a sandwich". A simple tenderness which resonates throughout the album.

Trouble Books are not afraid to experiment, and Gathered Tones is all the better for it.

"Ascending Kidney"
"Past the New Parking Deck"
"From Colfax Place"
"Arms Full of Lemons"
"Abandoned Monorail Station"
"Tropical Islands, Germany"
"Night Indoors"
"Dazzle Ships (Parts IV & V)"
"Sudden Loop"
"Dusk Accelerator"

MySpace | Bark and Hiss

Track of the Day …"Lion Face Boy" from Seabear


"Lion Face Boy"
We Built A Fire
2010 Morr Music

Listen to "Lion Face Boy" MP3

Released this month on Morr Music,
We Built A Fire is the fruit of the on-going evolution of Iceland's Seabear. The project originally began as a one-man endeavor of singer and multi-instrumentalist Sindri Már Sigfússon (a/k/a Sin Fang Bous : check out our review of his 2009 release Clangour). However, today Seabear has matured into a seven-member strong collective. "Lion Face Boy" is the first single from the band's second release and reflects the collective's beautiful take on melodic orchestrated indie-folk. Watch the video for another release from the album called "I'll Build You A Fire".

In conjunction with We Built A Fire, Seabear will be releasing When The Fire Dies, a six track EP highlighting the band's folkier balladry.

Be sure to catch Seabear at Mercury Lounge (NYC) on 25 March and at Point Ephémère (Paris) on 20 May. See here for a full list of concert dates.

Tracklisting of
We Built A Fire
"Lion Face Boy"
"Fire Dies Down"
"I'll Build You A Fire"
"Cold Summer"
"Wooden Teeth"
"We Fell Of The Roof"
"Warm Blood"
"In Winters Eyes"

Tracklisting of
While The Fire Dies
"Pocket Knife"
"Bright House"
"Singing Arc"
"Leafmask II"

Official | MySpace | Twitter | Morr Music

What's On The Hi-Fi...Emanuel & The Fear Album Review

Emanuel & The Fear
"Dear Friend"
Paper Garden Records (2010)

Listen to "Dear Friend" MP3

We couldn't say better things about this bridge locked band last year when for a week we did nothing but proselytize "Jimme's Song" as it was on the original EP. The Listen version is unrecognizable from the original. The EP version was a timely, smart and fresh take on modern rock. I miss that song! It's the one song from the EP that got seriously hurt.

For this full length, I love the prog-rock angle at first. The similarity to Maynard from Tool is so good it curls my toes sometimes but I didn't expect that so soon!

Now, I didn't think I would hear an album that would meet up to their EP potential until "Dear Friend." It's a McCartney type horn piece that really makes sense and shows life. There are also several passages of tunes that sound like the Rachel's and Emanuel's voice. It's a welcome mix of the group.

What makes this album really good beyond the first layers are the lyrics that the leader sings. It could be trite but it resonates. Forget the Debussy, Shumann and Brahm's salvos that are struck and relax into the sweetness of the songs and slip into your bar seat and go.

Emanuel & The Fear (Official) | MySpace

Track of the Day …"Yours" from Gaspard Royant

Gaspard Royant

You Can Have Me (If You Want To) (EP)

Listen to "Yours" MP3

Gaspard Royant is a young Parisian artist whose first self-released EP You Can Have Me (If You Want To) was released last month. Gaspard's style is a mix of folk and pop, with the slightest hint of honky tonk-lite à la français. The EP's 5 tracks were honed on the road, Gaspard traveling with his guitar and playing across Europe and the US. It was actually during his travels in the US, perhaps in part drawn by a certain sense of romanticized adventure, where Gaspard decided to invest fully in his music. Gaspard writes in English, tackling in his songwriting the wild extremes of the human condition.

The track "Yours' is a wonderfully deceptively tender duet with singer-songwriter Marie-Flore. The EP also includes a favorite "Grow", a quietly confident and swaggering ballad.

Watch the video for "Yours" directed by Ben Berzenker : when a untroubled stroll in a snowy wood turns sinister


The Mary Onettes Share Five Tracks On Their Hi-Fi

Philip Ekström of The Mary Onettes shares with us five tracks which are now on his hi-fi. Click here or the image below for the complete list. Also, check out our review of the band's single "Puzzles" here.

What's On The Hi-Fi...Tunng Album Review

…And Then We Saw Land
"Don't Look Down or Back"
Full Time Hobby (2010)

Listen to “Don't Look Down or Back” MP3

Much of the writing on …And Then We Saw Land took place as it was actually recorded in east London's Play Studios. In the studio, the band was free to play and experiment with sounds and instrumentation, in particular with the studio's impressive collection of vintage synths and mics. The result is a decidedly bigger and more confident sound -- a sound which the band's remaining co-founder Mike Lindsay has said has been described as "Epic Folk Disco Brass Magnificent". Tunng succeed in moving their quirky, jaunty folk roots forward on this their fourth release, filling …And Then We Saw Land with joyous and sonically updated seafaring-themed singalongs. As Mike puts it, "[t]hese are songs about journeys and mini adventures and themes of discovery and enlightenment coming out of chaos…."

On this release, Mike collaborated with Ben Bickerton on songwriting duties and is joined by Becky Jacobs who provides warm supporting vocals. Mike also produced this album, as well as one of our favorite releases from last year, Speech Therapy from Speech Debelle.

Have a listen to "Don't Look Down Or Back" which features what the band calls The Mega Chorus -- a band of 15 collaborators and friends who got together and lent their talents to this album one rainy night in an old school hall. It is in this way that Mike wants …And Then We Saw Land to reflect the sound of the band's live shows, with the audience stepping in to take on the role of The Mega Chorus.

It Breaks
Don't Look Down Or Back
The Roadside
With Whiskey
By Dusk They Were In The City
These Winds
Weekend Away

Official | MySpace

Track of the Day…"Careful What You Say" from Class Actress

Class Actress
"Careful What You Say"
From Journal of Ardency (EP)
Terrible Records 2010

Listen to "Careful What You Say" MP3

A transplant to Brooklyn from California, Elizabeth Harper has shed her solo acoustic sound for full-throttle 80's retro-electro pop. In forming Class Actress, Elizabeth (a former drama major) hooked up with producers Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson, recording the debut EP Journal of Ardency in Elizabeth's apartment. The sound is a wonderful mix of vintage Dynasty-era synths and dance beats sampled from vinyl. There is a particular strength in the songwriting, each track wearing a preppy dark heart on its sleeve. The result is a collection of tracks which are, as Elizabeth puts it, for people to become obsessed with their lovers over -- the definition of pure stalker pop.

MySpace | Terrible Records