Front man of the band Citizen, Mat Kerekes, diverges from the band’s formulaic pop punk sound to pack some punch to his own solo career. His brand new album, Ruby, embraces a sound that’s been lost in recent years. The album explores more of the alternative-indie genre, reminiscent of the scene strong in the earlier 2010s, though it intertwines this with the timeless influences of old operatic rock. The album carries fans amongst peaks and valleys, journeying between songs energized with theatrical vocals and orchestration while taking pauses to create tension softly, with tracks that build a narrative through piano ballads and string collectives. This combination of modern indie-pop and immortal rock choruses may just be the album to quench the thirst for something more than the currently monotonous alt-radio genre.
Title track “Ruby” sets a pace for the rest of the album to be attention-grabbing with a tone that’s charismatic yet wistful. “All my years keep slipping away,” the lyrics that linger towards the end of the track, serve as foreshadowing for the youth-centered themes of the album. The lyrics directly feed into each track to further embed the motif of time. The content of third song, “Young,” becomes particularly self aware as a personal reflection from Kereke’s songwriter point of view. He examines how “the moments I write down are forever,” and revisits those of a relatable adolescence.
It’s rare that the gems of an album are actually pushed as singles but “Diamonds” breaks the mold in this case and presents itself as the standout track, setting high expectations for the rest of the album. Within this song, Kerekes doesn’t shy away from revealing the immense influence of songwriting similar to Queen. The sound is as familiar as the home you were raised in but it’s tasteful in how much it borrows — clear as day, but not gimmicky. As a whole, the song is successful in constructing a climatic sound, building up from the piano intro to the high-swinging energy of an operatic section. It almost feels like it should be saved for later in the album: something the listener has to earn. Some songs suffer by being placed after this shining star, namely “Autumn Dress,” which can stand strongly on its own but gets lost in the album, simply becoming a bridge to the next show stealers, the cinematic ballads “They Appear At Night” and “Hawthorne.”
What some tracks may lack in theatrics next to “Diamonds” and “Hawthorne,” they make up for in imagery and radiant vocal harmonies between Kerekes and a recurring female counterpart. “Welcome to Crystal Cres” whips up an interesting and exciting dynamic between the lullabying harmonies and one absolutely ripping electric guitar solo that ushers back into view the rock opera quality present earlier in the album. After that energy is guided back into the album, “Spider Silk,” offers the treat of the ‘put-on-repeat’ track that every record needs. The percussive quality to the guitar gives a particular weight to the bouncy beat of the drums, getting fingers snapping and toes tapping.
“One for the Wildflowers” and “An Ode” wrap up the album in a revitalizing spirit. While the music gives appropriate closure to a record that spends the majority of its time revisiting the past with nostalgic sound, the lyrics end with the question “do you ever miss it, the chances you’ll never get again,” leaving the album open-ended. The listener is left wondering if that consistently longing voice is ever content with how time has passed.
The range of not only lyrical content, but also sounds and skills that Mat Kerekes displays in Ruby hints at a strengthening solo career for the versatile musician. The new record offers something for anybody looking for an album without any significant strike outs and the added bonus of multiple home-runs. Ruby is a wonderfully cinematic album meant for driving on a sunny day with the windows rolled down and has a surefire potential to brighten up the currently dulled alternative scene.