Happy Nauryz, all! Obviously by neither background nor home country am I in a position to celebrate myself, but I felt like doing something Kazakhstan-related in honor of the holiday, and the most obvious “something” was to write the post I’ve been threatening y’all with for a while now.
So: let’s talk about Kyle Ruh.
It’s pronounced “roo,” for what it’s worth, and it’s not his real name. His real name is Erik Tolenov, and while he was a member of Moonlight he went by Erik, except for a brief period guest-starring under the name Era (more on that in a moment). I am probably going to slip up and call him Erik at least once while writing this.
Moonlight-era Erik was, arguably, the most consistently publicly interesting member of the group, or at least running neck-and-neck with Ansat:
I try not to worry about silly things such as YouTube views, but “Tokyo” having less than a million YouTube views makes me want to shake my fists. Listen to “Tokyo,” you Philistines!
If there were any justice in this world, that “Baby, excuse me for my mistaaaaaaaakes” would consistently and frequently be described as “ICONIC” by the kind of people who go around proclaiming such things.
I think I’ve said this enough times for it to be boring, but it is a damn shame that the OT5 Moonlight production engine ground to a halt soon after the audio for “Ademi Gon” was released. It’s a catchy song! I’ve played it over and over again! And Erik’s starting his rapped bridge by declaring “Now I’m Jack Sparrow!” and then using his scratchier voice to complete the run is a large part of the charm. (Edit 24 March: The lovely Sara let me know that she translated the lyrics. Enjoy!)
In the spirit of completeness, there was one Moonlight side project in 2018, in which Yerkekhan and Erik (as “Era”) teamed up for “Monogamous,” which is a Heartrending Ballad, and as will become all too clear I don’t really enjoy ballads, even heartrending ones. If you like your songs to contain great heaps of sung emotion, “Monogamous” will be more up your alley than it was mine.
But at some point after “Ademi Gon” was released, Erik decided to strike out on his own and become solo artist Kyle Ruh. (And managed to do this without permanently alienating all of his ex-bandmates, as we’ll see.) Post-Erik Moonlight eventually did a musical and aesthetic pivot away from the more idol-pop template the original group seemed to be drawing from, and more power to them. But in the spirit of supporting free movement of idol labor, I have been rooting for Erik-turned-Kyle-Ruh to make interesting musical things happen—and get sufficiently compensated for it—on his own.
And I seem to be getting my wish, because holy cow does Kyle Ruh have a discography. No wonder dude seemingly never posts to Instagram; he’s too busy recording and releasing songs. Good for him! Good for Q-pop! After the sheer number of groups worn down by the last two years into dissolution it’s nice to see someone actually being able to stay afloat for a change. But are the songs enjoyable?
Well, first of all, Kyle Ruh has a higher opinion of ballads than I do. Here’s a ballad. Here’s another ballad. Or you can try this ballad. Or this duet with Aroojeanne (known as Erika when she was in the late, lamented female group Juzim), which is a little too uptempo to be a ballad but is still pretty ballad-adjacent.
Then there’s “Fake,” which is not a ballad:
The wonderful translator Didi loved “Fake” enough to translate the lyrics, and I will grant you that the unfiltered bitterness is at least a change of pace from the ballads. “Fake” is the kind of song where being a native English speaker gets in the way: the “fucking fake” refrain just doesn’t work for me. It’s not mishandled or badly pronounced, just not smooth enough to keep from calling attention to itself, but too smooth for “fucking fake” to sound right.
I had assumed Kyle Ruh would alternate between ballads and the likes of “Fake,” but I was wrong. Kyle Ruh’s preferred mode is… well, I don’t quite know how to describe the genre. I’ve fallen into the habit of having “lo-fi” playlists on in the background as I work, and a lot of Kyle Ruh’s songs seem similar: a beats-per-minute count around 80, a relatively muted background, a lot of emphasizing beats through finger-snaps or hand-claps, a distinctive lack of hi-hat, any guitar being decidedly acoustic.
There’s definitely some overlap with the city-pop revival, which Kyle Ruh himself, or at least the people charged with producing videos for Kyle Ruh, seem to have figured out:
But my alternate classification for this kind of music is “songs that are meant to remind you of the possibility of sex on a sleepy Sunday morning.” And of all of Kyle Ruh’s efforts in this sub-sub-subgenre, “Lemonade” is the most seductive.
Generally, though, I don’t find the lo-fi/city-pop-ish/sleepy-Sunday-sex songs as enjoyable as “Ademi Gon.” I don’t mind having them on in the background but I don’t feel they’re clamoring for my attention.
Kyle Ruh, smart and hard-working man that he is, has apparently accounted for this possibility, and come up with other ways to keep my attention, namely collaborating with as many of my other favorite Q-pop artists as will have him on board.
Here he is with Arsenaleen, who emerged from the wreckage of Black Dial to have a perfectly good solo debut. They sound decent together, though this is a bit bland for my liking.
And here’s Ansat! I mean, aside from my getting excited when any member of Moonlight does any work at all, this is a cheering development—as well as he’s doing, Kyle Ruh doesn’t seem to be such a success that it would make sense for Ansat to duet with him in a context of mutual bitterness. Potential evidence of lack of hard feelings aside, I’m not adoring the amount of vocal processing but this at least has more life in it than the Arsenaleen duet.
Speaking of having some life in it: my initial reaction to this song was, “Kyle Ruh, if you want to cover ‘Debra,’ just cover ‘Debra,’ and leave Madi Rymbaev out of it.” But “Dalelde” is probably growing on me the fastest of the three collaborations. Kyle Ruh wailing all over the place makes sense; if you’ve heard Madi Rymbaev’s work (and if you haven’t, you should at least check out Soul Ushin), you know he has a pretty limited range, but that actually works to the song’s advantage on the second verse, as he grounds it. Madi without Kyle Ruh would be a monotone; Kyle Ruh without Madi would be too melodramatic. I’m still not sure it’s a great song, but it leaves a more lasting impression on me than most of Kyle Ruh’s solo work, “Lemonade” excepted.
I suspect there are more collaborations to come. Specifically, I suspect that someday Kyle Ruh is going to show up on a Ninety One track, or some member of Ninety One is going to guest for Kyle Ruh. He is absolutely already in the Juz Entertainment orbit: he’s said in at least one interview that he regards Alem as a big brother; he’s reportedly going to collaborate with Yerbolat Bedelkhan at some point; he performed on ZaQ’s ARTJAQ channel, with loyal assistant director (and occasional Bala News interviewee) Nursultan Bazarbay doing the filming; and two of his better songs were collaborations with NAI, the producer/DJ who’s been working with Ninety One more or less the entirety of their career. I keep saying, everyone singing pop songs in Almaty knows everyone else singing pop songs in Almaty, but this is less running in the same circles and more, let’s just get everyone in the studio at the same time and see what happens.
(Actually, now that I think of it, Kyle Ruh wailing the chorus of an Irina Kairatovna track would be a treat. If ever Irina Kairatovna were to produce an opus along the lines of “Dream Girl,” I hope Kyle Ruh takes the Norah Jones role.)
So. I can’t honestly tell you that Kyle Ruh is one of my favorite Q-pop artists, given that I run meh-to-negative on most of his discography. But the next time the man releases a song, which given his track record may well be as soon as I finish writing this blog post, I will dash over to listen to it. He’s clearly got a work ethic; given the number of people apparently willing to work with him, he’s less likely to be rude or dismissive; he’s creative. I hope he has a long career, even if that does mean a surfeit of ballads.