Spookey Ruben Alone At the Zoo

Since it took him six years between his debut and the two-disc concept release Bed/Breakfast, it’s not a bad move for Spookey Ruben to release this limited-edition pressing of work in progress, letting people in on how a move to Los Angeles has impacted his muse. Apparently, not much — Alone At the Zoo features the same over-the-top, XTC-ish pop that Spookey has always explored, but what’s fascinating is not the songwriting but the production. By including four tracks recorded in Chicago with Tortoise percussionist and engineering genius John McEntire, Ruben shows off just how good he can be when someone reins him in. Other tracks find Spookey back in his more is more mode, where he piles any sugary confection he can find atop already sweetened layers, like a kid at a soda shop who thinks every flavour must be better than just one. The three tracks written (and rejected) for an animated feature are pretty easy to spot (and not just from titles like "Mandy, The Bear” and "Penguin On the Roof”); it’s the ones that mix Spookey’s child-like perspective with the sophistication of his musical vision that work best. For fans only, but who knows when (and in what form) we might hear any of these again. (Hi-Hat)