Now that the Internet has become an integral part of this generation, “making it” online as a singer seems more like a fever dream than anything else. Playing covers of your favourite songs and putting it on YouTube simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. Aspiring musicians today have a much steeper mountain to climb than they did 10 years ago–self-producing, self-publicity, and basically being a one-man band seem to be the minimum requirements to even be considered for the fickle Internet spotlight. And once you’ve made it this far, there really isn’t much more you can do besides hope that people out there will enjoy your music.
For Manila-based bedroom-pop artist Ruru (Ru Quimbo), she’s just about done everything that she can do by herself. She’s released those YouTube covers announcing her presence as an artist (interestingly, her choice of songs are from the indie rock canon: Mac Demarco and King Krule), she’s self-produced her own music, and her album packaging is hand-drawn. In terms of being a self-made artist, Ruru fits that description to a T.
Although Ruru has not blown up in the way that her contemporaries (the most notable of which is Clairo) have, she’s built up quite a name for herself just off of word-of-mouth and small, dedicated “boutique” YouTube channels. Now a mainstay in the Manila independent music scene (it exists!), Ruru has started branching out from her own solo endeavours to include collaborations with peers like Mellow Fellow and playing bedroom pop showcases all around her city. (And if the Clairo comparisons weren’t clear enough, here’s her playing “How Was Your Day?” with Mellow Fellow live, singing the part originally reserved for Clairo.) For the moment, she’s at a fantastic point in her career.
All of this success comes largely because of Ruru’s fantastic ear for production and her two projects so far, late 2017’s Sleep EP and 2018’s Far Out. Though it’s no doubt a feat in itself, Sleep–her unapologetically twee debut—and all of the songs on it are just a half step above those YouTube covers that are so common online. Ruru demonstrates that she has a sweet, delicate voice, but the songs on it are supported by the similar tired kick-beat and the same few repeated guitar notes. After a while, all of the songs start to sound too familiar. While Sleep no doubt proves that Ruru can craft a catchy song, there’s nothing there that makes her stand out amongst her peers–besides the fact that she now has an EP to her name.
That is, until the release of Far Out.
From the first notes of the opening song “There You Go,” there’s already a massive shift in Ruru’s sound. The Dolby-lite rumbling of the first ten seconds is a welcome change, marking a shift in musical direction–but not for long. Ruru soon slips back into the lighter, brighter sounds that her fans have grown to know and love. With these deeper, bass notes in the mix, Ruru’s sound becomes more balanced. Instead of having all of her music composed of high-pitched tones (her singing voice and her production on Sleep are light and airy), she gives some much-needed variety to her production. Ruru’s signature lo-fi microphone recordings and those same kick-beats are still being used here, but unlike before they don’t overstay their welcome. “There You Go” is proof enough that Ruru has more tricks up her sleeve, and it’s the joyous thesis statement that sets the tone for the rest of Far Out.
“Coco,” another instance of Ruru’s evolution as an artist, is about the closest that Ruru gets to rapping. She delivers her first verse with a certain urgency, spitting out rapid-fire verses so quickly that each word spills out and overlaps each other (“If you’re gonna co-complain or play an act of soliloquy / “Don’t obsess on your sadness to prolong this madness”). If Ruru wanted to switch careers and become a rapper, she can keep the beat well enough to make the transition easy. Though she retains that innocent demeanour that we’ve grown to know and love, there’s a repressed anger to her lyrics for once–her opening lines almost seems like a scolding, while her stream of consciousness flow describes an fallout of some sort (“Wishing that I never left you for that bright yellow raincoat on a humid day”) that led her to “sobbing in the shower” and not knowing “what is next to come.” It’s a rare glimpse of another side of Ruru–an image different from the lonely head-in-the-clouds YouTube girl that she’s built her career off of so far.
But it’s R&B-tinged “Changing,” Ruru’s sweetest and (dare I say it) best song to date, that Ruru’s singing and production skills shine the brightest. Backed by a groovy, head-bobbing beat, “Changing” is another song that is accented by heartbreak and farewells that is cleverly disguised as a pop jam. The song’s hook, though melancholic, (“Honestly / I wish you didn’t have to leave / How many times do we gotta say goodbye?”), is so catchy and fitting that you just can’t help singing along: tears and all. Add to this some of the tonal garnishes that Ruru throws in (“Oh baby baby baby you” and the twinkling xylophones) and it’s hard to believe that a song this sad can sound so vibrant at the same time.
For extra effect, Ruru even manages to include two nauseatingly sentimental quotes spoken by Justin Long’s character in Sam Esmail’s 2014 rom-com Comet, adding another voice other than her own into the mix for the first time. It’s an effect that is used again in album closer “Far Out” (there’s a French sample there that I can’t quite make out), but the Justin Long quote is so expertly woven in that it feels like it was spoken for Ruru herself.
After four-minutes of pure pop bliss, Ruru closes “Changing” with a sentimental question: “Why can’t we stay just like this?”
If every song Ruru releases from now on is as powerful as “Changing,” I’d ask her the same thing. Why can’t we stay just like this?