The only constant in the Ruby Suns, Ryan McPhun, worked with Chris Coady to make Christopher, the Suns’ fourth album. Coady’s worked with Beach House and Gang Gang Dance, which explains why Christopher sounds like a second-rate version of both of those bands. If you really want to know about Christopher, here it is: a largely unambitious electro-dance album that doesn’t work on electronic or dancing levels (exceptions, of course there will be exceptions). The real question is, Why? Why would McPhun throw out the sounds of a delightful pysch-pop band for this?
The easy narrative is that the money’s in electronics days, but the more likely answer is that McPhun grew bored with being a shaggy terrier, lying around in the sun. This is the type of guy who never settles down, where pretty sounds are, you know he’ll be around. It’s also hard to throw around the ‘cultural tourist’ label to someone who actually moved from Australia to Olso, but if you take all the Ruby Suns albums together, a sense of collecting sounds starts to emerge. South Africa-by-way-of-Vampire-Weekend-by-way-of-Paul-Simon here (2008’s Sea Lion), the weirdo noise pops of Animal Collective (2010’s Fight Softly, still the group’s best work by a long shot). There’s a genuine appreciation for the music that influenced those records, and Christopher follows suit with glowing admiration for the electro-cool of Nordic pop. It even leads off with a tribute to how much it blew McPhun’s mind to see Robyn in person that one time.
But the closer you get to “Desert of Pop”, the more you realize it is an awful song. First off, that title, claiming Robyn is an oasis in the desert of pop. McPhun’s lucky he doesn’t put this shit on Tumblr, because he’d get (rightly) eaten alive by a poptimist army noting how much great music that happens to be catchy has been put out over the last three years. And then, the metaphors— McPhun compares Robyn to a bottle of tequila. Women, like alcohol can be intoxicating! One prays for his soul on that tremendous, upcoming day when he learns that some women have bodies that have curves like guitars.
The lyrics sound much clearer on Christopher than on previous Suns records, which is a shame because they’re often terrible. On the next damn track, “In Real Life”, McPhun talks about that time that “we got drunk until the sun went down / but it was funny, because it never did.” This my friends, is comedy. He then realizes that “if time is money then money means nothing”. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
Not all of Christopher is bad as all that. McPhun physically transforms himself into a spinning Lana Del Ray gif on “Dramatikk”, losing himself among keyboards and warm synth machines that have been done better elsewhere, but are inoffensive. “Futon Fortress” gets points for originality. Over a quickening beat, McPhun describes barely being able to get up in the morning, and a preference for couches. The press release describes Christopher as a breakup record, if not necessarily a sad one. There are moments, like “Dramatikk” and “Futon” that capture this — the confusing swirls of emotion, the ever-sticking cycle of negativity and hope and negativity again. They’re interesting ideas, ones electronic music seem well-suited for exploring.
Mostly, though, McPhun sounds over his head. The few peaks of Christopher are heavily outweighed by its deep valleys and plodding middle ground, which pass by without so much as a signpost of remembrance. The question of why McPhun made Christopher would only be an interesting one if was any good. The real question is that why a listener, in a time where electronic music is moving and evolving faster than at any point in its history, would waste their time with it.