Published Apr 30, 2020Under the name Hala, Detroit's Ian Ruhala has carved out a unique space for himself within the DIY/lo-fi indie scene. With his latest LP, Red Herring, Ruhala elevates his sound, working in a studio for the first time (up until now, he had written and recorded all of his songs alone in his bedroom). Studio production courtesy of Ryan Hadlock and a broader palette of instrumentation, including string arrangements (performed by Andrew Joslyn and Josh Neumann), make this Hala's most polished effort to date, yet he never loses the laidback playfulness and charm that defined his more lo-fi efforts, Young Alumni (2015) and Spoonfed (2016).
Each song coheres beautifully as a result of Ruhala's talent for creating simple yet effective melodies. Red Herring blends together a wide range of influences, most noticeably 2000s indie rock à la the Strokes, Phoenix, and Mac DeMarco, but also dream pop, jazz, and '50s/'60s pop ballads. "We Can Start Again" sounds like a Phil Spector-era ballad by way of Mazzy Star, infused with anxious self-awareness ("I'm so tired of self-deprecation"). Yet despite all of these sonic touchpoints, the album is never derivative and still feels fresh, due in large part to Ruhala's lovely and genuine vocal performances.
Lyrically, Ruhala is at his best when singing about romance — whether referring to actual relationships or swoon-worthy feelings of self-love and acceptance, as on "True Colors," when he sings, "True colours are showing/And my skin is glowing at the thought of what might be."
The album loses steam a little bit toward the middle, its energy plateauing in songs like "Lies" and "With You Now (It's the Only Place I Want to Be)," yet picks back up with title track "Red Herring," a catchy, poppy tune with a perfectly understated string arrangement.
The album ends on a reserved note, with the sweet, stripped-down "True Colors," offering a nice callback to Ruhala's earlier DIY work. Polished and well-written, Red Herring is an engaging collection of songs that seem to announce Hala's arrival as one of the most adept indie musicians working today. (Cinematic)