Having already established his Beach Boys fascination with 2005's self-titled debut, Ryan McPhun reached into his travel journals for Sea Lion, spiking the Ruby Suns' pop/psychedelia with ample amounts of African, Polynesian, and Kenyan instrumentation. The resulting album follows the recent paths of Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend by finding some middle ground between indie pop and world music. Sea Lion is an aural melting pot, with ukuleles and sun-baked singalongs sharing space alongside '80s-styled electronica and programmed percussion. It unfolds in layers, opening with the spacey Hawaiian cadence of "Blue Penguin" before segueing into two of the album's most genuine folk numbers. "Oh, Mojave" and "Tane Mahuta" are as earnest as they are indigenous, the latter featuring polyphonic percussion and elegantly harmonized lyrics sung in the Polynesian dialect of Maori. Throughout it all, McPhun weaves in modern production -- a processed keyboard here, a vocal effect there -- so that by the time "There Are Birds" introduces a bit of hypnotic dream pop into the mix, it hardly sounds out of place. The Ruby Suns still remain heavily indebted to Brian Wilson, but they largely confine themselves to his enigmatic SMiLE period, making heavy use of sleigh bells, vibraphones, and reverb-washed vocals throughout the album's second half. Only when "Morning Sun" takes an abrupt turn into Depeche Mode territory does Sea Lion falter, particularly given its final position in the track list. Listeners are left scratching their heads, wondering where the enigmatic jungle pop music went, only to return to McPhun's sunny sounds once the album reverts back to track one. Culture clashes never sounded so good.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey