(Icebox Records, CD)
Burlington imprint Icebox Records has finally released the latest installment of its 3-inch CD series, a shimmering slice of guitar-driven pop-tronica by international transplants Ruby in Flames. Once again, the label has proven that there's more going on in and around Burlington than strummed acoustics and whiteboy funk.
Ruby in Flames is the brainchild of an electronica-loving Swede and a guitar-happy Scot. The former, Peter Sunna, handles six-string and vocals, while his bandmate Malcolm Buick is credited with guitar, keyboards, vocals and production. The two met while designing album covers in London; when Buick got a design gig in Burlington, Sunna chose to follow him across the pond. Assisting the duo on select tracks is Sunna's girlfriend Jody Waller, who contributes lovely backing vocals.
RIF's self-titled disc is a seductive hybrid of futuristic pop and fuzzy indie-rock. Like electro-acoustic hybrids The Notwist, the band combines evocative melodies, musique concrete samples and intricate, programmed rhythms. Some songs build gradually from a repeating figure, à la Spiritualized; others gurgle and shimmer in an electronically embellished haze.
Opener "Care 4 You" features crystalline acoustic guitar, aching vocals and squelching percussion. Lyrically, the song paints a bittersweet picture of an ex-lover's reluctance to let go. "Manchester Corduroy" is built around a stately Brit-rock riff, which serves as a foundation for the cigarettes 'n' suds vocal melody.
"BPM" affects a starry-eyed distance, with Waller's dreamy vocals suggesting a blissed-out reincarnation of My Bloody Valentine. Twinkling piano hovers in the background as synth bass conjures deep, analog vibrations. "Minus Ten" hints at the epic, but thin production prevents it from achieving the spaciousness to which it aspires. So much laptop pop is hindered by digital brittleness; this track is no exception.
Closing cut "The Birds" arrives in a blanket of reverb-soaked guitar and what sounds like seagulls at the beach. But it's hardly New Age -- synth arpeggios slither beneath the hypnotic pulse of an electronic kick drum like digital reptiles. By song's end, chant-style vocals and cycling rhythms are joined together in a Stygian marriage of trance-inducing sound.
It's not everyday that a world-class electro-rock record appears on the local scene. In fact, I can pretty much count 'em on one hand. Ruby in Flames is easily one of the best, an artful example of sonic origami. Congratulations to Icebox Records for another fine release. Here's to a few more in '06.