Explode from the Center

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A light and breezy trifle of a debut album, Explode from the Center belies its swollen, attention-grabbing guest list -- including members of Kings of Convenience, the Concretes, and (most notably) Feist, among a couple dozen others -- with a consistently relaxed, unassuming vibe. Rubies enlist most of those folks to sing and/or play guitar, and there is certainly plenty of pretty singing and guitar playing on this record, though few listeners will be bothered to figure out exactly who's doing what. Core members Simone Rubi and Terri Loewenthal are fine singers themselves, but their mellifluous voices do work especially well blended together and with others, as amply demonstrated in their days with Call & Response, a sort of latter-day Mamas & the Papas for the indie pop set. Explode does a good job of carrying forward that band's late-'60s, late summer, California aesthetic (never mind that most of the album was recorded in Scandinavia), adding occasional electronic flourishes, although the gentler, folkier numbers tend to come off better than the would-be dance jams. "I Feel Electric," the Feist-featuring lead single, is actually one of the least successful moments on the album, its insistently bouncy sore-thumb synth/disco sounding stilted and overdetermined by comparison to the surrounding material, although mediocre lyrics and a negligible chorus hook don't help matters, either. The less blatantly dance-oriented "Stand in a Line," with a twitchy low synth part and scratchy guitar work courtesy of ex-bandmate Dan "Sorceror" Judd, fares a bit better, as does the chunky pop of "Diamonds on Fire," but the most satisfying grooves here are those mellow enough to feel like organic frameworks over which the songs -- the dreamy, string-swathed "Signs of Love"; the languidly funky "Room Without a Key" -- are lazily, casually draped. The remaining tracks, including the Donovan cover "Turquoise," are even more leisurely and relaxed, with a wistfulness verging on melancholy that's both luxurious and insubstantial, dissipating sweetly as soon as they end. Rubies' friendship with Leslie Feist makes a lot of sense, as they mine the same vein of sophisticated, folky pop with which Feist struck gold on -- in particular -- The Reminder (whose cover, incidentally, was designed by Rubi) -- and Feist fans will find a lot to enjoy here, although Rubies' actual songs make less of an impression than their overall sound. There's nothing especially wrong with that -- it just means this is an album better suited for soundtracking laid-back summer afternoons than for focused, introspective close listening.

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