In her continuing effort to become the Britney (no, that's Liz Phair) or Christina (no, that's Cat Power) or Mariah (no, that's Juliana Hatfield) or even the Jessica Simpson (no, that's Mary Timony) of post-alternative indie-rock, Rebecca Gates steps out solo from The Spinanes, which on their last album, 1998's fabulous Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop), had essentially already become her solo act (fellow Spinane Scott Plouf had departed for the drum chair in Built to Spill). Arches and Aisles was sultry to the point of steaming, but it still had something of a guitar-crunch on it. Ruby Series, Gates' latest album, which at seven songs is somewhere between an EP and a full-length release, is downright slick.When the vintage mellotron trills swirl into synthesizer tones, tickled guitar arpeggios and cello lines on various songs, Ruby Series presents glamorous, sexy, sad, beautiful music. Bittersweet, sunset music. Classic, tragic cinema music. Music that--especially when it is pulled along by the mumbled, guilty confessions and observations of Gates' singing--overpowers the digital-age veneer of its sound production.
The album's sophisticated sonic shimmer seems a result of Gates' recent relocation to Chicago. The album features the usual Chicago post-rock suspects, most especially John McEntire. Indeed, when the xylophone dances across songs such as "Lure and Cast," Ruby Series sounds like it is hiding out in the middle of a Tortoise album. But Gates' vocals snap that illusion quickly, most especially when she double-tracks her voice. Then, her fragmented, whispered sketches of broken relationships, painful confrontations and lonely reflections seem like internal debates, a soul ripped asunder, finding its way back to wholeness through the free association of words dangling from the lifeline of a melody. There's something gut wrenching about the singing; Gates' human purrs and cries defy the sheen that surrounds them.
----michael j. kramer