On 2008’s Sea Lion, The Ruby Suns stuck together psychedelic experiments with strong glue, making for a thrilling grab-bag of world-music-inspired pop scraps, but it was still somewhat unfulfilling for those who craved cohesive songs. On Fight Softly, the New Zealand band pulls the stitching tighter still between its synth and international instrumentation, resulting in tracks that maintain musical consistency without ever following a predictable formula. These small tweaks make Fight Softly completely accessible, and wonderfully so, as if Smile era Brian Wilson and Graceland era Paul Simon had collaborated on an electronica album. Bright as the Serengeti sun and spaced-out as the futuristic glow of Tokyo nightlife, The Ruby Suns ride a river of burbling keyboards that hypnotizes with constant adrenalized percussion. A dreamy shimmer is layered atop reverb-soaked rhythms borrowed from Oceania and Africa (to great effect on “Cranberry”) that make the band sound like a modern reincarnation of Toto. At other times, sound effects are grabbed straight from the ’80s for guilty-pleasure throwbacks like the wonderful “Haunted House” and “Two Humans.” Even songs that lose focus through sporadic style shifts (“Closet Astrologer”) find a way to bring it back together in a twinkling electronic daze. In the end, Fight Softly is one of those crossover records that doesn’t have to compromise much to appeal to everyone.
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