Using different criteria, you could as easily call the Ruby Suns’ Sea Lion my top album of 2008 as Fleet Foxes. I questioned in my Fleet Foxes post whether that album had actually broken into that nebulous group of permanent collection albums that are always on hand. Elis & Tom, Air’s first two albums, the Radio Dept.’s Lesser Matters, Tied & Tickled Trio’s Observing Systems—these are albums that, years after buying them, have yet to wear out their welcome. These are the albums you want to play when you’re getting ready to go out, when you’re tired from being out, when you’re writing or cooking or driving or working or just being.
Sea Lion, I already know, has made it into this category. Though the album never had the play-it-’til-you-puke period that Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend enjoyed, it’s nevertheless remained in consistent rotation for the last nine months. All these spins later, I still don’t feel like I’ve fully discovered everything it has to offer.
The best quality of Sea Lion is that it’s varied without sounding unnecessarily eclectic, Ryan McPhun has crafted ten songs that blend contemporary indie rock—yes, reverbed vocals and space-out ambient rock—with a dash of 80s new wave, 60s surf pop, tropicalia, and African rhythms. The end result is something not too dissimilar from, yet far more unique than, a lot of other indie du jour records out there right now. You guys can keep Deerhunter; I'll take the Ruby Suns.
It’s an atmospheric record, filled with dreamy vocal harmonies and sound effects that filter in and out of each track. But unlike, say, Person Pitch, Sea Lion isn’t content to sit in one place for too long. Just look at the first half of the record: opener “Blue Penguin” is a laconic song, moving at a turtle’s pace, followed by the Latin-influenced (with a tinge of Avery Island-era Neutral Milk Hotel) quick-strummed “Oh Mojave.” From there, “Tane Mahuta” gets fully into a Os Mutantes-like jam before segueing into the 80s-esque “There Are Birds” and finally falling into the structureless “It's Mwangi in Front of Me.” Yet the whole thing coheres. Vocal melodies in one song show up as musical motifs in another; songs melt into each other track by track. Sea Lion is a journey. It's easily the most underrated record of the year.
- The Ruby Suns: Kenya Dig It