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Born Ruffians

Plinky Plonk EP

[Warp; 2010]

By ; November 30, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

2008 was a rough year for Born Ruffians; during that time, they were on the cusp of perhaps splitting up entirely after their drummer, Steve Hamelin, decided against touring with the band as they continued to promote Red, Yellow, and Blue. Instead, the remainder of the trio – singer Luke LaLonde and Mitch Derosier – found a replacement and kept to the road. When the time came to write a new record, though, Hamelin was sorely missed, and it wasn’t until a year later that the three culminated once again and agreed to iron out their differences for the sake of making a follow up to their generally well-received first disc. Their 2008 debut was a simple, vibrant burst of tightly wound pop music; LaLonde’s glitchy, skinny voice whirled around inside an album that was at times fiery, and at others cool and complacent, but it was altogether dynamic from top to bottom. Given its straightforwardness, it stood out among the sea of releases that year because of the tenacity and creativity of their relatively bare three-piece sound – a characteristic that would evidently be lacking on this year’s follow-up, Say It.

While the band experimented with their instrumentation a bit more on their second LP by utilizing more synths and even some horns, the songs seemed to have less of a presence. The Toronto trio continue to craft with a sense of minimalism, and while it wound up working well on a few tracks, (i.e.; “What to Say”) for the most part, it never truly carried the same effectiveness as it did on Red, Yellow, and Blue. Instead, it left too much open space and really exposed LaLonde’s at-times awful lyrics – the rather campy uses of this different instrumentation further hampered a record that never felt like it was going anywhere from the start. It was an effort that was personally hard to form any sort of bond with, but with Plinky Plonk, Born Ruffians have managed to salvage some of their year by formally packaging a handful of B-side material and remixes that, to some extent, exceeds much of its long-play predecessor.

“Plinky Plonky” could have been previously found on the flip side of the band’s single release of “What to Say,” and after giving it a few good listens, its absence from the final album puzzled me. Perhaps it’s spread a bit thin, but I had a lot of fun with the buildup from its bouncing strings and clicking drum sticks to the well-layered and playful finale, which eventually envelopes LaLonde’s nostalgic cries for “old friends.” Not only did I enjoy it, but it just seemed like LaLonde was having more fun belting out this track than we was on any of the songs they eventually would choose for the LP. “Like When You” is the B-side for second Say It single “Nova Leigh,” is a serviceable addition that mixes in an Arabian-esque hook with some more squiggly bass and peppy strumming amidst a few tempo changes before we get into the highlight of the album, “First Date Kid.”

This short number was written at least a year and half ago by LaLonde and the singer of fellow Canadians collective Tokyo Police Club, who actually released it as a bonus track on their last LP to the title “First Date Kit.” While lyrically it isn’t much to write home about, the two singers harmonize like they were meant for each other, and the post-bridge coda has a nice sense of exaltation to bring it to a quick but satisfying end. The two remixes and “remake” of Retard Canard are generally pretty forgettable and don’t successfully add anything to their source material, (the “What to Say” remix is especially obnoxious and awful, in case you wanted a more specific warning) but “Pool Party Fun” is an interesting, up-close acoustic track played around some primitive expressions of angst that made me wonder; if LaLonde could further develop his lyrical chops, he could spin off a hell of an acoustic album. In fact, I believe the entire band is a few tweaks away from producing a really great, quality record that could even exceed their first. Still, they are a relatively new band in indie-years with plenty of room for improvement, and with this latest EP, they are proving that even the b-sides pack a catchy punch that is hard to forget.


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