Maybe it’s premature because it’s not even May yet, but this is my album of the year, and it’s not remotely close. Ruby is the brilliant new solo album from Citizen lead singer Mat Kerekes. Far from Citizen’s ominous sound, Ruby is a bright, lovable project that demonstrates much of Kerekes’s personal growth since his last release.
I had almost no expectations for this album going into my first listen. Luna and the Wild Blue Everything, Kerekes’ debut solo album, was good but forgettable. It often felt like just another acoustic solo album from a punk singer with the intention of being known as an “artist” rather than the singer of a pop-punk band. Instead, Kerekes gave a complete rock performance that was miles away from any of his past work.
Kerekes recorded and produced the entirety of Ruby himself, and this is evident by how cohesive this project is. Every part of the album is there for an obvious reason, and as a result, there are no skips on Ruby.
I think the best part of this album is how it contrasts to Kerekes’ previous work with Citizen. Citizen is known for their bleak, sinister music, which often feels like it’s designed to put you off. Their music is beautiful, but in the sense that there’s beauty in something chaotic or destructive. Citizen songs such as “Stain” and “My Favorite Color” feel like the music that would accompany a supervillain as he destroys an entire city while you have no choice but to stand and watch. Ruby, then, is the exact opposite, instead, providing a warm glow for an album that would perfectly accompany a summer sunset. This project is angelic and radiant, showcasing Kerekes beautiful vocals in a way that feels natural while still providing an adequate dose of deeply emotional lyrics. Gone are the warped, distorted guitars of Citizen’s projects, instead replaced by bright piano riffs and upbeat melodies.
The standout songs from this project are the first two tracks, “Ruby” and “Diamonds.” Ruby demonstrates Kerekes’ beautiful falsetto, something that was often on display in full-length Citizen projects but was used in a jarring way. “Diamonds” sounds like the best Queen impersonation I’ve ever heard, but still infused with Kerekes’ touch. This is one of the hardest one-two punches to open an album I’ve heard and the project never takes its foot off the gas in terms of quality for the rest of the album. “One for the Wildflowers” and “An Ode” are another emphatic pairing used to give this project the perfect ending.
In terms of songwriting, this is a welcome return to Kerekes’ personal style. Early Citizen releases leaned heavily on his abilities as a lyricist, but later became less personal as their style evolved. Citizen is better for it as it allowed them to stand out from the majority of the other pop-punk bands they were surrounded with. But it’s still a welcome return to hear Kerekes sing about his own experiences. According to Kerekes, Ruby is about “recognizing your own toxic habits and realizing the hurt they’ve cause [sic] . . . about losing your childhood innocence.” Kerekes has always been good at boiling down very specific emotions into precise quotables, and this project is no different with lyrics such as “Maybe we learned the hard way/or maybe it was a mistake/it doesn’t matter either way/it was what I wanted anyway” from “Ruby” providing the perfect example.
This album may fly under the radar as an independent release, but trust me, it’s well worth the listen.
Daniel Moran is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as an assistant arts and entertainment editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.