(Authors note: This is the first of the ‘Deep Dives’ series, where I’ll delve into albums, tracks, artists, festivals, shows, anything that I believe deserves more attention.)
“Bloom” (2016) is the sophomore album of Australian alternative/progressive house (kinda) phenomenon RÜFÜS DU SOL (previously known as simply RÜFÜS in their native Australia) . It’s their first release since leaving their home country and garnering more widespread acclaim. Bloom is a true breakout release, and contains a perfect collection of radio-friendly tracks, deeper cuts, and bonafide spiritual experiences that build the album holistically. My opinion of this record also plays into my personal ‘sophomore album theory’, but that’s a post for another time.
RÜFÜS DU SOL is firmly one of my all-time favorite acts. Despite strong house and dance influence, they avoid the typical critiques and pitfalls of other electronic acts – “pressing play”, mixing rather than “playing” or “performing”, etc. – with a blend of live analog equipment and digital influences/production, which highlights the legitimate chops of each member on their respective instruments; Tyrone Lindqvist on vocals and lead guitar, Jon George on keyboards, live effects and synthesizer, and James Hunt on the drums.
If you’ve been anywhere near a radio or a music festival in the past 3 years, chances are you’ve heard something from this group, or specifically this album. The record is infused with splashy house tracks (“Until the Sun Needs to Rise”), an electro nu-funk anthem (“Like an Animal”), lovesick ballads (“You Were Right”, “Be With You”, “Tell Me”) and perhaps the most blissfully haunting song of the 21st century so far in “Innerbloom”. The difference between tracks becomes nuance, though, not anything so stark that it might detract from the themes threaded throughout.
One of my favorite professors in school (who was a real purist, I’ll add) said that he thought films were all meant to be seen in theaters only, all the way through at once, with no talking or other interruption. I remember him verbally berating a classmate once after we watched something because the student in question couldn’t stop making shitty jokes throughout. His opinions aren’t terribly unreasonable ideas about the best way to watch movies, for sure, but I do think we find ourselves half-watching or half-listening more often than not these days. It’s harder than ever to devote an hour or two to an album or film with our ever-shrinking attention spans, but in certain cases it’s well worth it. This is one of those cases.
As such, albums are in fact becoming less common than quicker drops like singles, EPs, or mixtapes in the modern music scene, especially in EDM (though I wouldn’t go as far as to say RÜFÜS DU SOL are an EDM act). Yet not only is Bloom a full-blown LP, it’s one that was clearly designed to be listened to all the way through at once. Tracks meld seamlessly into one another, and though themes and instrumentation are consistent throughout — as I alluded to earlier — the vibe ebbs and flows track to track, not allowing the listener to fall too deeply into the emotional songs or get too caught up in the more energetic ones.
The album opens with rain, which I love, because it evokes something different for everyone but still sets the ambience for the album to begin with a melancholic sort of scene. Vocal harmonies, tambourine and snaps break the cascade of the raindrops, and Lindqvist comes in over soft electric piano to introduce one of many of the lovesick sort of appeals to a love lost that fill the record: “You said you don’t need me like that/ Now I’m stuck here standing in the rain/ You said I don’t need you like that/ But I do, But I do”
The name of the track is aptly, ‘Brighter’, and the chorus ends on a (Sorry in advance) brighter note, with “Can you feel the sunshine? (you make it brighter, brighter)/ Make it brighter, make it brighter for me/ When that sun comes shining on me”. Puns aside, this is an important theme to consider when regarding the album’s themes – Bloom refers to a rebirth from a dormant state, when inner beauty, coaxed out by the light, shines in its own way.
Many of the tracks center on love that’s been lost or gone awry, but there’s never a hopeless message. Rather, one of a course correction. A wish to be back to the way things once were, when one can be fully themself again. Yet the optimistic undertone speaks to themes of growth and the natural anxiety that comes with growing and moving away and changing, perhaps becoming more popular, things that this group experienced at the time of writing. It doesn’t have to be about relationships. Regardless of the interpretation, the concept is expressed beautifully.
In terms of expression of concept, I firmly believe the environment in which music is written or recorded affects it greatly. In this case, the group actively pursued a different environment than their native Australia to record their second record – and that place was Berlin, Germany. I’ve never been, but I can imagine the rich electronic music history of the city, the weather, and the atmosphere of reverence and penance that permeates the concrete jungle all made their mark on the process. This wasn’t lost on the group – In a 2016 interview with Music Times, they described ‘Innerbloom’ as “basically our thank you or our nod to our time in Berlin. It’s quite a long song at 9 ½ minutes. It’s a little more indulgent and it has a slower progression.”
As ‘Brighter’ opens the record with a message of growth, change, and radiance that sometimes needs the encouragement of another, ‘Innerbloom’ closes with a dreamscape where that same beauty of companionship is recognized, but not expected; it’s offered without a transaction in that haunting chorus ‘If you want me/ if you need me/ I’m yours’. “Indulgent” only begins to describe it. Like anything so rare and finely crafted, ‘Bloom’ is to be savored.
Listen to it here:
Bonus: RÜFÜS DU SOL opens their set with “Like an Animal” at the historic Fox Theater (Oakland, CA), September 28, 2017 (photo credit, yours truly)