In 1986, Paul Simon didnít know that a child had recently been born who would one day play music as the Ruby Suns, but he already knew what Hell was like. Hell, he explained in an SNL skit, involved being trapped in an elevator playing an endless Muzak loop of Simon and Garfunkel songs. (Sorry, itís not on YouTube.) Ladysmith Black Mambazo appeared as Simonís backup band in that episode, and if they were trapped in an elevator in a 2010 update of the skit, itís safe to assume the loop would be playing the Ruby Suns.
Ordinarily when music is so offensive that one needs to shut it off immediately, the senses are offended by the experience of the sound. The Ruby Suns doesnít sound offensive. This is neither Xenakis nor Motorhead. Nor is this a matter of taste or politics, of shunning jingles or the words "Butthole Surfers" after interpreting their meaning. Instead the effect is desperate, relating in particular to oneís need to feel that time moves forward, marked by differences between minutes and years. The moment in which Fight Softly flips from background to foreground is akin to realizing one has been buried alive.
Vocalist Ryan McPhun deftly walks the line between embarassing naivete and calculation, moving away from sounding (so much) like the Beach Boys because that was a little too twee and sampling "a baseball announcer" because he, "wanted to do something having to do with baseball." Sampling (referencing?) Enya ("Haunted House") was cool in 2004. Making songs that sound like "Wonderful Christmastime" never was and never will be.
That a record like this ends up popular is never a surprise, but damn, it used to be the major labels behind this sort of cynical foisting.