Ruby Phillips is no stranger to the world of rousing and radiant indie-rock. As the title of her debut album as Ruby Fields implies, she’s ‘Been Doin’ It For A Bit’ – since 2017, to be precise, when the Sydney singer-songwriter burst onto the scene with her head-turning grunge-pop romp ‘I Want’. Casually uploaded to triple j Unearthed on an otherwise normal Tuesday morning, the track received airplay that same evening and became the kind of an immediate hit – the kind most up-and-comers spend their formative years dreaming about, – with Fields earning an onslaught of critical acclaim and lucrative touring spots.
Fields was 19 then, fresh out of high school and still getting her head around the concept of adulthood. She’s done a lot of living since and learnt a lot of lessons – not all of them easy – and such is palpable on this striking debut album. Throughout its 12 tracks, Fields paints a portrait of herself as someone who’d be fun to crack tinnies with on a scorching Sunday afternoon at the beach – see summery, feel-good anthems ‘Kitchen’, an ode to mateship with a breezy hook tailored for singalongs, and ‘Worms’, with its driving 4/4 patters and cheery quips about “turning dirt into gold” – but she also puts herself forward as someone you could have a heart-to-heart conversation with at 4AM.
It’s in these poignant songs that Fields’ prismatic storytelling truly shines. On the deceptively catchy ‘Bruises’, she delivers an overcast recounting of her history with abuse, her vocals sober and strained and her pain unhidden. It’s a hard left-turn in tone and tenacity – especially coming right after ‘Kitchen’, the album’s most jovial cut – but that polarising contrast makes its strait-laced intensity all the more impactful. Ditto for ‘Pokies’, a gloomy duet with Adam Newling, an Illawarra country-rocker and guitarist in Fields’ band who plays the role of her alcoholic father, Fields herself musing on the frayed relationship they share.
As gut-wrenchingly pensive as these tracks are, it never feels like melancholy for the sake of melancholy – Fields hasn’t shoehorned them in around the upbeat jams we’ve come to know and love as an attempt at diversifying the record. She’s not trying so much to distance herself from the loveable dorkiness of her earlier material (‘Dinosaurs’, ‘Trouble’, ‘P Plates’), but simply expand the colours on her palette. She’s unafraid to bare her soul in its rawest form, scars and all, with luminous reels of crunchy guitars, buoyant drum fills and infectious vocal refrains as her vehicle.
Chris Collins’ production ties the whole thing together, lending to Fields and her band (which in addition to Newling features bassist Tas Wilson and drummer Patrick Rogers) the same kaleidoscopic spark that’s worked wonders for the likes of Middle Kids and Gang Of Youths. ‘R.E.G.O’ is an early highlight, with Fields’ vocals on the chorus soaring and angelic, though stacked high to reign over the wailing electric guitars. It also taps into Fields’ affinity for ’90s pop, as does the bouncy and bombastic ‘OUCH’. If this is what Fields is capable of delivering on her debut full-length, the 23-year-old’s musical future is a bright one.
- Release date: September 24
- Record label: Independent