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Born Ruffians

Say It

[Warp / Paper Bag; 2010]

By ; June 17, 2010 

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

The key element of Born Ruffians’ sound is a kind of explosive restlessness, which finds itself expressed in equal part through instrumental experimentation and playful pop vocal trickery. Less clean-cut and perfect than Vampire Weekend, less bombastic and overblown than The New Pornographers and less pretentious and powerful than Broken Social Scene, Born Ruffians continue to craft their own unique pop stylings on Say It, their second full length album and make good use of the sometimes bizarre, always fascinating vocal abilities of lead singer Luke Lalonde.

Interestingly, perhaps paradoxically, Say It is both more expansive and more restricted than Red, Yellow and Blue: it’s fair to say that here they utilize their resources better. Where their first album tended to play the genre-shifting game – trying out folk-pop, rock-pop and other variations – Say It sees Born Ruffians stick to their own unique and inimitable sound: a jittery kind of experimental-pop-rock akin maybe to Grizzly Bear meets AC Newman and a whole lot of caffeine. All in all, Say It benefits from this tightening of the screws, with the band finding more room to explore the ideas, themes and styles they present on the album.

Say It is let down by its weak and sometimes inane lyrics. “Sole Brother” may be just about the most immature song ever penned, with vocalist Luke Lalonde singing “You never ask sister to help with the chores that are physically straining/ Sometimes I wish that I was a sole brother” and sounding more like a petulant child than a certain Metallica member when discussing copyright law. Here, his vocals come across as more irritating than interesting, and the track goes on to degrade and dissolves into a temper tantrum of a musical outro. Unfortunately this aspect of the album never really improves, and represents a real step backwards from Red, Yellow and Blue. Although their debut was hardly a poet’s album, Say It has nothing to rival the simplicity of lines like “and I know/ foxes mate for life/ because they’re in love.”

That said, what Born Ruffians do right, they do well. As a whole, the album is both immensely listenable and relentlessly quirky, even though it is made up of simple sum parts: flashy guitar licks, squealing and rolling vocals and short, sharp drum beats. Say It has enough nuance and variety to keep you coming back for more, even if it is an album riddled with weak moments.


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