Review: Mat Kerekes Exceeds Expectations with the Tangible World in ‘Ruby’

Ruby - Mat Kerekes
‘Ruby,’ Mat Kerekes’ sophomore album, brilliantly looks into the casual pains of life from an insightful, optimistic perspective.
Stream: ‘Ruby’ – Mat Kerekes

Twenty-five year-old Mat Kerekes is most known for the unforgiving wrath of post-hardcore/emo Toledo band Citizen. However, his solo album Luna & the Wild Blue Everything debuted in 2016, and has since been revered as a gorgeous, evocative embodiment of tender and raw emotion. The blue moon, dog, and child became a symbol of all of that — of the fragility in “Riding In Your Car,” the sincerity in “…For Anyone,” and the catharsis in “The Clubs / The People’s Attention.”

The release of Ruby (out now) has been largely anticipated, with fans awaiting something with the same, if not more, untrammelled passion intertwined with intimacy. Now, as the album comes to life, it’s safe to say that Kerekes did not hesitate to pour himself entirely into Ruby.

Ruby - Mat Kerekes
Ruby – Mat Kerekes

From the tender nature of his solo work to the vicious sound of Citizen, Kerekes has a steadfast affinity for tragedy. He often plays with dejected ideas such as the loss of innocence, the decaying of love, the burden of regret, the pain in missing someone, or the weight of mortality. His solo albums seem to vivify these situations, production-like. Ruby is as much of a story as it is an album.

The opening track, which is also the title track, “Ruby” welcomes us with an upbeat melody that holds a downhearted story of mortality. The repetition of “All my years keep slipping away” paints the picture of the all-powerful tidal wave of time, sweeping everyone up, pulling them along, bringing them far from the start, yet the sound is nowhere near as dark or tumultuous.

Kerekes’ calmness is a sign of acceptance, and that could be what lies at the heart of Ruby. A similar lyric appears in “Diamonds,” one of the catchiest tracks by Kerekes, that goes, “Years have been stolen living on the inside.” There’s something even more troubling about years being stolen as opposed to slipping away, but the song is not angry, it’s actually more of a feel-good anthem for dancing and celebrating. It’s unexpected, especially with Kerekes’s inclination to anger in Citizen, but Ruby manifests a new level of tender energy — it is comfortingly optimistic, parading through the struggles of life.

The ending line in “Diamonds” says enough about this optimism: “Donʼt you notice diamonds in the midst of everything? / It gets lonely living on the inside.” Diamonds are the consistent image, persisting through the times of alienation. It’s ambiguous, but it lends a glow that shines in all the darkness. That is essentially Ruby as a whole: Illuminating the unseen, dark things, making them seem a lot lighter than they actually are.

Hawthorne” effectively portrays this illumination and optimism, especially with its dynamics wreaking havoc, and a memorable scene being illustrated: “I saw you dancing in the storm with both hands up / You didn’t care at all.” It is this attitude that is admired throughout Ruby, this carefree reaction to chaos that ultimately makes the chaos more bearable. A lot of Ruby is focused on this uncaring response, from “You don’t care if they like you or not / You just pretend like you do,” in “Welcome To Crystal Cres” to “The people bow for you / Their bodies shatter at your feet / You just don’t care, you think nothing of it,” in “Spider Silk.”

Mat Kerekes
Mat Kerekes

Kerekes seems deeply affected by others being unaffected, and it seems almost noble to him. He wants to hear about pain, such as on “An Ode,” asking, “Do you ever miss it? / The destruction of your innocence,” and “Do you ever miss it? / The things you loved when you were a kid / Do you ever miss it? / Your parent’s love that spread too thin.” He is the voice inquiring into one’s pent-up sadness. He recognizes the miniscule agonies — like friends from the past growing older and places from the past no longer existing — and it all contributes to his sense of mourning.

But it is not for himself; he is merely looking into the life of another, and witnessing their pain. Like in “Diamonds,” when he laments the “stranger” who is “living on the inside,” it seems as if, throughout Ruby, he is the observer on the outside looking in. He is the omniscient narrator in the stories of strangers, old friends, lovers, characters. The scene he sets in all of these storylines are vivid and beautiful, from sleepwalking in Babylon to laying underneath a Hawthorne tree.

It all seems to be embedded in nature, exploring the depths of the Earth while exploring the depths of human emotion. The most impactful result of Ruby is rooting the listener into this dynamic, conflicting world, and magically making them nostalgic to be there – and then making them never want to leave.

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:: get Ruby merch here ::

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Ruby - Mat Kerekes

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an album by Mat Kerekes

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