CrawDaddy just posted a great article on Ruby Vroom! Click here to check it out, or read below!
Every time I’m in Los Angeles, I find myself wishing that I could soundtrack my car trips with “Screenwriter’s Blues”. The inevitable traffic jams always rob me of the opportunity. Sure, we are all in some way or another going to Reseda, someday, to die. But, I am not going to hasten that trip by subjecting myself to a song that suggests motion while choking on my own exhausts fumes. It’s one of the few times breathing is bad for you.
Soul Coughing’s first record, Ruby Vroom, is under-appreciated in my estimation. Here and now, loops and samples are second nature. This album makes ample use of them, and does it well. Everyone from Thelonious Monk right on down to the Looney Tunes orchestra, in a broad swath of musical knowhow, gets whimsically spliced and inserted into Ruby Vroom‘s songs, like painless diabetic needles. And in case you like your jazz sugar free, there’s a bit of that too. Jazzy but not jazz, rocky but not rock. Aesthetically pleasing. In other words: Fly.
As I write this, I’m realizing (here’s where shit gets meta) that my phrasing’s being affected by Doughty’s phrasing. Maybe you picked up on a few lyrical references, if you’re a fan, too. Some of those little fragments are too irresistible not to use, and I think that’s significant. Granted, cohesion isn’t his strong suit, but here’s a guy that’s super capable of pouring out whatever he’s got in his heart, mind, gut, and creating this almost effortless riff. I reckon he’d come in second or third in poetry slams, behind saucy black lesbians. Lyrically speaking, it’s not the big picture so much as the moment that’s worth listening for.
And of course, that’s not to say that the songs rely wholly on Doughty’s spastic/smooth, clunky/cool shades of psychosomatic state capture. The rhythm section is propulsive and adds the kind of ambient heft that’s usually reserved for guitars. The deep, dark caverns and stark urban precipices of Ruby Vroom owe much to both upright bass whomp and tight snare crack. Check the lively dub play of “Down to This”. Check the depths of “Sugarfree Jazz”, with its bored, distorted seagulls. Perhaps it’s largely to producer Tchad Blake’s credit that the sampling in no way overpowers the songs. Okay, except for maybe “Bus to Beelzebub”, but that madness is clearly planned.
However mitigated, the madness was not to last. Vroom is the first of three albums, each successively more conventional, an object lesson in how hard it is to remain weird. Doughty moved on to a solo career writing predominantly sentimental acoustic music, which too, has its moments. But most of those moments scream, “MEH!” when compared to this album’s inspired lunacy.
I’ll take pretentious jazzy Doughty over whiny lovestuck Doughty any day of the week, but I do have a soft spot for Ruby Vroom‘s sentimental moments. For some reason, “True Dreams of Wichita” has me dreaming out over Babylon, heart stings filtered through the beatnik babble but beating, still. The “Janine” teacup storm replicates the feeling of getting too fucked up on a weekday afternoon, phone in the crook of your neck, loopy headed in a dark room, looking at the TV as a source of light and sound. Squinting. Al Roker talking the blues, somehow.
It’s such a weird, amorphous pastiche of sounds and emotions. But it’s sticky in the way a great album can’t help but be. It’s like sauce the bottom of a bottle. I’m drunk on its savory transmissions.