Brit-pop Ruby delves into darkness

By Michael Eilers
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 18, 1996


Salt Peter

Creation Records

Most memorable bands have a learning curve involved, a period of initial disorientation for the listener while the new sounds and symbols swirl and blend. When I first heard their single on the radio, Ruby earned nothing but an instant sneer. However, I bought the album on instinct (and on sale) during a moment of weakness.

After a few hours of listening, my opinion has changed considerably. Though I am extremely cynical about Brit dance/pop bands, this one is radically different from the current crop. Echoing last year's strange-rock sensation Portishead, Salt Peter ventures deeper into a spooky swirl of dance/house beats and gritty female vocals. The sound is made up of a now-commonplace mix of live instruments and looped samples, yet Ruby manages to make the mundane inventive and aggressive - who else could debut a single in the Alterna-top-ten with a vibraphone in it? And one that opens with the line "Old man's ass?"

Lyrically, Ruby starts out dark and just gets darker. Ranging from Riot Grrrl ultra-feminism to raw-edged confession, the songs delve into the ambiguous gray spaces between passion and obsession, carried along by the deceptively innocent voice of the lead songstress. Lesley has a cool, Bjork-ish delivery that carries a lot of anger in a small range. When she sings, "I can speak so softly/because I hold so much power," you will believe it.

The cynic in me wants to dismiss Ruby as another MTV band from the Brit-pop factory, but I'm having a very tough time getting this disc out of the CD player. Ruby's bizarre instrumentation, edgy lyrics, and overall polish makes them stand out from the Alterna-crowd of wannabes on the radio.