It’s been 13 years since Ruby last released an album. Waiting For Light marks the return of Lesley Rankine, the frontwoman and songwriter of Ruby who used the band to help bridge the gap between hip-hop, jazz and rock back in the ’90s, when the band first emerged. In the past, Ruby’s sound has been weighted heavily with the loping grooves of hip-hop and the fuzz of punk. The band’s most mercurial element was the slippery elegance of mutated jazz, offering a smoky counterpoint to the singer’s sharp and spiky delivery. Waiting For Light, however, ploughs an entirely different field. Rankine, who recorded much of this album with her brother, has opted to explore much more minimal exploits. Still trading on much of the heavy electronic grooves of the previous albums, Ruby also sees much of their sonics stripped to a bare minimum of just voice and guitar, voice and horns, or voice and keyboards.
On the title-track and album opener, Rankine’s vocals serve as the haunting caress to a stark guitar-line which overwhelms the atmosphere with the plush saturation of reverb. Normally, in the past, Rankine’s cooing signalled a promise of threat, some sense of danger. Here, she affects a vulnerability and tenderness that seems new in the gamut of her varied work. Yet another stretch of minimalist craft has the singer pouring heart and soul over the folksy strum of “Pulling Teeth”, evincing a pure sadness running just below the pulse of the tune. There are some returns to Ruby’s past glories, like the stomping electro-rock of “Last Light”, which deliciously betrays the singer’s Scottish brogue; “Note to Self” works a similar angle but from the stylistic reserves of electronic-pop. An even heavier darkness is substantiated on the Sturm und Drang of “Rain”, where Rankine’s vocals keep a cool, contained calm in the eye of the sonic hurricane.
Waiting For Light also introduces the songwriter’s most openly sensual side; “Go Down Easy” may be the singer’s most unguarded moment, a gentle love song that moves with the fluid turns of running water and gathers a soft friction between plucked acoustic guitar and wraithlike samples. The album is also Rankine’s most personal declaration of her Scottish roots. From the album cover’s picturesque landscape of Scotland’s rocky highlands to the lyrics, subtly imbued with the sense of Scottish moral fibre, the singer strips away the exteriors of her previous incarnations to reveal culture and character. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s most chilling number, the eerie, horn-laden paean of “Wetland”. Over a tipsy arrangement of brass, Rankine intones a heart-wrenching commemoration of reclamation and home-soul, the mournful dirge exorcising the deep desires lying dormant in a frozen body.
The album’s most primal and poignant moment, however, comes in the shape of a deeply moving anthem written especially for Rankine’s son. “Fireweed”, a dubstepped lullaby and reminder of self-belief and self-confidence, blazes with a mother’s fire for her suffering son. “You are the hunter at my table, bring your light… And love as much as you’re able”, she sings with the deeply innate awareness of a troubled and discerning parent. Here, on this number alone, it is Rankine’s voice itself which betrays and therefore establishes the artist as one of the most openly compelling, resolute and provocative women recording music today.