New Ruins

The Sound They Make

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New Ruins describe their music as "Small Town Midwestern Gothic," and that summary is good enough that Elzie Sexton and J. Caleb Means, the two musicians who comprise the group, ought to consider rock journalism as a sideline. While New Ruins' first album, The Sound They Make, is brimming with pop hooks and hummable melody lines, an air of malaise permeates these 11 songs, and while this isn't the typical gloom-struck synth wailing one usually associates with the word "goth," the simple organic approach of this music (with acoustic guitars often high in the mix) generates a compelling and evocative unease all its own. Sexton and Means originally launched New Ruins as a home recording project, and there's a modesty to their production and arrangements that suits the songs quite well; the open spaces in the arrangement on "Flowers" allows the refrain of "I've been in this town so long" to take on a weariness it might not have generated otherwise, the low-tech synthesizer on "Records" adds a very real charm as it floats over the simple percussion beds, and the drowsy vocals and insistent guitars of "Attic" suggest Dinosaur Jr. trying to be quiet for the benefit of their neighbors. While the material on The Sound They Make gets a bit samey by the end of the last track, the album also generates a tonal and thematic unity that adds to its power -- New Ruins manage to make music that sounds both sad and pretty without seeming self-indulgent, and their moody palette is both imaginative and absorbing. It's an impressive debut, though one hopes New Ruins have the sense not to stray too far from the concision that makes The Sound They Make so memorable.

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