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Album review: Sinners and saints alike will love 'Cynics & Saints'

Picture a naked blue woman with fiery red and black hair flowing behind her sitting on a faceless white horse with freakishly long legs.

They may say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but no one ever says, “Don’t judge a CD by its cover.” CD covers are made for judging. Combined with the first track, they give you an impression of what the disc inside will hold.

First impressions aren’t everything. Lara Ruggles sneakily tricks listeners into expecting another simplistic, cookie-cutter indie rock album with the first impression of her newest release, “Cynics & Saints.”

The first track, “The Secret Ingredient,” starts abruptly with mediocre, breathy vocals and painfully easy guitar chords that would make a person tune out almost immediately.

Imagine my surprise 40 seconds later when electric guitar riffs, a drum beat and light-as-air harmonies burst out of nowhere. Ruggles throws listeners' underestimation of her back in their faces with her melodic harmonizing abilities and upbeat tempo throughout the rest of the track.

The record goes nowhere but up from “The Secret Ingredient,” with each song better than the last. Listeners get a chance to hear what Ruggles can really do in “Small is Beautiful.” The beautiful arpeggiated notes of the first verse is the perfect transition into her rich tone and complemented magnificently by the Bridget Law’s violin and Phil Parker’s cello in the chorus. The solemn tone of the music contradicts the light-hearted words of the lyrics, giving listeners a sense of tranquility.

The next track, “Fighting Time,” keeps listeners from getting too comfortable, however, with a minor tone and an epic build in tempo. The increasing intensity of this song will have listeners lost in a trance as they wait for the building beat to break into the fast-paced chorus. Listeners who don’t want the full album should at least consider adding this beautifully executed song to their music libraries.

“The Wrong Thing” is sure to be the favorite of listeners who love to sing. Ruggles’ vocals are so full of emotion in this track; it brought this critic to tears. You can’t beat the classic method of powerful vocals backed by powerful piano chords. The added elements of the cello and the violin drive the heartbreak of Ruggles’ words even farther home. This beautiful song is a must-have for your “I’m sad” playlist. Don’t lie to yourself. We all have one.

Finally, Ruggles shows off her epic piano skills in my personal favorite; “The Dove” is a wonderful track full of profound metaphors, jazzy beats and vocals and intense build-ups. One could go on and on about how amazing this track is, so to keep it short: it’s the best song on the record. There are no flaws to be found in “The Dove.”

Though this critic misjudged the talent and skill of Ruggles in the beginning, hopefully listeners will learn from this mistake. “Cynics & Saints” is not your average modern folk CD. It’s special. The theme throughout the entire album is a powerful one: sometimes you have to be willing to be broken and be okay with not being okay.

Listeners who wish to experience the power behind “Cynics & Saints” can do so when it releases through Immersive Records on Oct. 2.

Skylar Griego is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @TDLBooks.

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