Of all the pop-punk and emo frontmen to break away and embark on solo careers, Mat Kerekes’ attempts have been among those that make the most sense. That’s not to say that his main work with Citizen is bad – if anything, they’ve probably come into their own more lately than ever before – but there’s always been the impression of a deeper artistic persona that was previously unable to shine through, a notion that proved true on his 2016 project Luna & The Wild Blue Everything. After all, he’s a versatile musician, and while whisperings of a new album incorporating elements of pop and electronic music from most of frontman-cum-solo-singer would be met with exception apprehension (particularly in the current climate of both pop-punk and pop), there’s more faith in Kerekes. The fact that the preview tracks have been pretty great has certainly quelled any worries that might’ve been there, making Ruby a rare case in which all the stars have aligned for an album that seemingly can’t go wrong.
That might seem like a prime place for a bait-and-switch where it turns out that Kerekes has dropped the ball and Ruby isn’t actually as good as it initially seemed, but that really isn’t the case. Put simply, Ruby is a great album through an emphasis on richness and texture that’s always a good fit for a pop album of this stripe, and with Kerekes having the restrained but unfailingly endearing personality that he has, it makes for the sort of small-scale project that really is a joy to delve into and explore.
And this really is a simple album at its core, to the extent where that profoundly intimate nature never feels too scaled-back or finicky. Moments of bombast do occur, like with the bold, colourful horns and backing vocals of Diamonds, but they feel earned even for as seldom as they are, extrapolating a natural classic pop influence to territory of acts like the Electric Light Orchestra in a way that feels incredibly tastefully done. That’s the biggest constant here, particularly when it comes to overall composition; the ties to post-‘90s alt-rock remain firmly sewn in the roughened by extremely poppy acoustic guitars (particularly on the title track and Young with their distinctive power-pop lilt), but layers of glassy strings and pianos lend a delicacy that, when pitted against Kerekes’ quivering, gorgeously melodic vocals on the likes of They Appear At Night and Welcome To Crystal Crescent, really do feel excellent. Across the board, the composition rarely falters, and even if a track like One For The Wildflowers can feel a bit comparatively barren with a lumbering piano line that doesn’t pick up the same sense of focus, the sweet pop aesthetic is one with enough simplicity and effectiveness to transcend the majority of flaws and bury deep into the brain’s sweet spot regardless.
It’s why there’s simply no need for anything overly complex or – for lack of a better term – ‘songwriterly’; sure, Kerekes puts in a good amount of work in his writing as far as a billowing word choice and building up imagery goes, but in what feels like an album effectively rooted in nostalgia and embracing that so wholeheartedly in sepia-toned production, forming such a sturdy core around the past has a lot of mileage to it. That might seem reductive, especially given the high value put on strip-mining past sounds for wide appeal these days, but the results ultimately speak for themselves, and highlights just how important the synergy between sound and content can be on an album like this.
And even if there isn’t all that much to say about it as far as deep analysis goes, Ruby’s exuberance can make up for a lot. It’s a fairly quick album and an easy one to get through, but between a vibrancy and a personality that remains rock-solid throughout, and a reliance on tones that sound genuinely wonderful in a modern context, it’s difficult not to find at least some appeal here. Whether this will lead to a greater push behind Kerekes as a solo artist remains to be seen – as it stands now, this does feel distinctly like a one-and-done sort of project, at least as far as the avenues it takes are concerned – but when the results exude such a warmth and pleasantness, it’d be hard to complain either way.
For fans of: Telethon, The Front Bottoms, Electric Light Orchestra
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Ruby’ by Mat Kerekes is released on 19th April on Black Cement Records.