REVIEW: Born Ruffians – Say It
Zach Hart Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Born Ruffians – Say It
Release Date: June 1, 2010
It's hard to be a quirky, chirpy band - especially when quirky and chirpy has become another musical mainstay. One band of herky-jerky kids is easily replaced for another. This reality greatly concerns Born Ruffians, a Canadian trio consisting of singer/guitarist Luke LaLonde, bassist Mitch Derosier, and drummer Steven Hamelin. Their debut album, 2008's Red, Yellow, & Blue, was labeled with all those interchangeable words meaning youthful, energetic, and doe-eyed. The title track was a twinkly daydream, focused on boyish fantasies of establishing a country. On other tracks, LaLonde babbled and squealed like a kid in the early stages of a sugar buzz – hyperaware and skin crawling. It was a fun and catchy record, but one that ran the risk of being easily confused with some other bouncy sonic doppelganger.
It would be understandable if Born Ruffians chose to depart from the charms of their first record, as many bands do on a sophomore release. Say It, though, does not run away from Born Ruffians' signature sound. Jittery guitar and hiccupping drum beats are as present as ever. Instead, the record takes the obvious appeal of the cheery indie rock formula, and injects twists and turns that send the trio far away from becoming another predictable band on an ill-fated trajectory. The overt youthfulness on Born Ruffians' debut has been channeled into a new, tasteful intrigue. Whimsy and charm come through without the inaccessible abstractions of pointless bizarrity.
There is method to the madness on this record; as LaLonde rants and raves, it is clear his squawks are far from shallow or premeditated. In the height of sincere emotion, his vocals are totally consumed by yelps and howls that border on wide-eyed insanity. ""I got a funny feelin' she's been cheatin'," he cries on "Oh Man", as hazy guitars pop and drums roll along. There is solidarity between emotional vocals and mechanical rhythm; vulnerability and strength balance out, without threatening a retreat to the naivety of past Born Ruffians releases.
But, that's not to say this album is all about precision and stability. "What To Say" jerks and bobbles like a Talking Heads tune. It's purely hooky from the first clucky bass line. "The Ballad of Bruce Moose", squelches with space invader synthesizer and battle-ready drums, while LaLonde's mouth runs faster than he can keep up with. "Oh, what a silly world it is!" He muses, before the guitar skits and freaks out, knocking the entire song off orbit, and into a frantic conclusion. "Come Back" pulls the reins in, channeling a hint of blues. Discouraged trumpet whines and lazy, front-porch style strumming sways along as LaLonde vows to "never again make someone mine".
What is most charming, though, is not the unexpected flourishes or the unashamed lyrical honesty. The conviction on Say It is most striking. For such a delicate, waifish sort of guy, LaLonde embodies a whole lot of soul. This is a different sort of soul that doesn't need to employ velvety smooth baritones and soaring walls of sound to be effective. The spirit here is a neurotic and hopeful one, accented by a band that plays as an extension of LaLonde's spastic consciousness. Say It does not house the interjections of angsty, self-indulgent boys, but rather of kooky, headstrong men. Born Ruffians have created an album of refined playfulness that goes to show growing up doesn't always have to be a drag.