Lost In The Neighborhood: Rediscovering the millennium-era rock of Philly’s Ruby Keeler

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Ruby Keeler | photo by Eric Wareheim | via rubykeeler.bandcamp.com

At the dawn of the millennium, it was clear that mainstream rock was in a state of crisis. Southern-flavored hip hop had emerged as a cultural movement while Lou Pearlman-constructed boy bands like N’SYNC & Backstreet Boys ruled the charts with an iron fist and frosted tips. The few guitar bands making waves on radio were of the post-grunge variety and the less we say about that regrettable stylistic aberration known as rap rock, the better. To put it simply, if a guitar band blew up and achieved any degree of success during this period, they probably sucked. On the underground side of the coin, things were a bit more complicated. Many bands in smaller markets throughout the country were still traveling out from the comfort of their local scenes, touring around the country and wrestling with the musical innovations and cultural shifts that were laid out in the wake of the 90s Grunge and Indie Rock explosion.

Philly based quartet Ruby Keeler was one such band. They released their debut full-length Shiver Shiver in the spring of 2000 to limited fanfare. Recorded with Brian McTear at Miner Street Studios, the now hard-to-find album contains some moments of great potential. “Midland: Next Two Exits” is full of milky waves of lush guitar work reminiscent of Luna and Galaxie 500 while “Fireside” is a sweetly romantic take on Terror Twilight-era Pavement. In the same year, the band would return to the studio to record demos for a planned sophomore album. The follow up to Shiver Shiver would never come to be and these demo recordings have now been reissued as They’ll Build A Neighborhood Where Your City Stood.

Out today, via UK tape label Jagged Skyline Records, the album reveals that the band had grown significantly in the short time between projects. “Dottie Hoffman” is an infectious grunge and power-pop hybrid that is high on energy, tight, tasteful instrumentation and sugary 90s nostalgia (you can see it performed lip-synced in the video above, on Chicago public access TV show Chic-a-go-go). The album’s standout “Two Fingers For Your Doubt” is a beautiful tune with its surreal lyrics and delicate guitars adorned with a sophisticated arrangement.

Listening to They’ll Build A Neighborhood… it is clear that the band was on the verge of stepping into a greater sense of power and musical proficiency right before calling it quits. These tracks were recorded less than a year before The Strokes would release their stunning debut Is This It and every music magazine on the planet would crown them and their NYC contemporaries, the saviours of rock n’ roll. Despite the inherent silliness of that proclamation, the media hype around The Strokes did momentarily open up some space for good guitar rock bands to break through. Who knows if the band would or could have been able to capitalize on the early 2000s brief rekindling of music industry infatuation with guitar rock? While, it remains unclear, what exactly happened to Ruby Keeler after these songs were recorded, the fact that they are just now seeing the light of day is a bittersweet cause for celebration.

Listen to They’ll Build A Neighborhood… below, and grab a cassette via Jagged Skyline’s Bandcamp.

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