Release Date: Oct 2, 2015
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Okay, so you made it. You've toured around the world, you've put out records that people enjoy and your shows guarantee crowd sing-alongs. But what about the sleepless nights, the greasy late night bites, the endless drives and feeling of being eaten alive? So ponders Born Ruffians' Luke Lalonde on RUFF, their fourth and decidedly most accessible release to date.RUFF starts off with the sweetly dizzying "Don't Live Up," which posits the idea that the dream of success is not quite as perfect as it seemed.
Liveliness was a big selling point for Born Ruffians when they were coming out of the gate. Dewing the ceilings of small basement venues from coast to coast with perspiration became something of their calling card in the run up to the release of their first album, Red, Yellow & Blue in 2008. On tour early in that year with rapper—and former poet laureate of Edmonton, Alberta—Cadence Weapon, Born Ruffians might not have seemed the most natural pairing at first, but their hyped up vibe was enough to bridge the noticeable gap between their manic Pixies yelp rock and Roland Pemberton’s limber rhymes.
Across four albums, Canada’s Born Ruffians have honed a distinctive sound that combines hyperactive melodies, yelping vocals and snaky guitar parts. Their new one, RUFF, is the ne plus ultra of Born Ruffians albums: 11 scrappy guitar anthems bashed out in just three weeks in a Toronto studio and with nary a keyboard within earshot – just Luke Lalonde’s inelegant-yet-eager vocals, Andy Lloyd’s tightly-coiled guitar and the puppyish rhythm section of Mitch Derosier and Adam Hindle. Born Ruffians’ sound is likely to divide listeners.
Some bands strive to mature into deeper themes and more thoughtful approaches after their first few albums, but Toronto's Born Ruffians seem to be channeling their inner adolescent on their fourth full-length effort, 2015's Ruff. Between the purposeful simplicity of these melodies, the goofy, often monstrous characters drawn by group leader Luke Lalonde for the album's lyric booklet, and the childlike glee with which he embraces the slightly rude lyrics of "(Eat Shit) We Did It" and "Fuck Feelings," Ruff often sounds like a celebration of the youthful enthusiasm and simplicity that fueled the group in its earliest days in Midland, Ontario. At the same time, Ruff's youthful spontaneity and playful spirit don't mean the band has become sloppy or careless; the performances here are expert and often inspired, and the ethereal soundscapes that punctuate "When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away" and the thunderous distortion on "Let Me Get It Out" show this band's sense of adventure is working well.
Born Ruffians perform as if they’re singing in the shower. The Canadian quartet loves a good heartfelt wail, vocal trill, and three-note guitar melody, adding up to a stack of songs best sung in a warm mist with no one around to hear you. That secret joy of singing in the morning comes from frontman Luke Lalonde’s yelping, kitschy words here. It’s the band’s best trait, clearly less of a choice and more of a habit.
A few choice song titles from Toronto’s Born Ruffians’ fourth LP: Stupid Dream, When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away, Fuck Feelings, (Eat Shit) We Did It. And while these might seem particularly cynical for the indie rock pop band that once penned a love song about meeting “at the fountains in Dundas Square,” Born Ruffians have always paired their spritely guitars and energetic vocals with a dose of disillusionment. When frontman Luke Lalonde wails, “Fuck no hard feelings, all I got is hard feelings, y’know?” overtop a slow, brooding guitar line, it feels almost cathartic.
If you loved (the music on) Channel 4’s hit Teen Drama Skins and were sitting greasily in front of the television in April 2008, your aural interest will have piqued when one of the ‘skins’ did something to another of the ‘skins’ when they were in a club, and… more things probably happened and then bam! Born Ruffians are on stage and they’re belting out “Hummingbird”! The Ontario-based foursome continued to pull from this rich vein of original sound through the rest of Red Yellow and Blue (2008), onto Say it (2010) and Birthmarks (2013); three excellent records – and favourites of mine - that can simultaneously be vibrating and jerking with riotously good indie rock songs, and swaying dreamily with their beautiful brand of the slow stuff. The lively arrangements on several tracks betray charmingly forlorn lyrics (see “Permanent Hesitation” on Birthmarks). Indeed, the lyrics have played such a huge part in these albums - they do ‘matter-of-fact’ so well, and it always works.