RUFF, the newest album from Born Ruffians, is an exploration into self and aesthetics. It’s a collection of scrubbed raw anthems that are defiantly optimistic, imaginatively arranged, and performed with a sense of bloodlust. In contrast to previous records from this Canada-based quartet, RUFF is simultaneously a return to form and a departure from convention. It is at once a culmination and a disassembly of the band’s history and dynamics.
Over four albums, Born Ruffians have developed a signature aesthetic that encompasses tightly wound, trapezoidal songs frothing over with hooks and wryly cathartic lyrics. The group has garnered favourable comparisons to such quirky pop infiltrators as Talking Heads, The Pixies and The Strokes. Onstage, the band is arousing and assaulting, coming off somewhere between a riot and a soul revue. Born Ruffians are Luke Lalonde (guitar/ vocals), Mitch Derosier (bass), Andy Lloyd (guitar/keyboard) and Adam Hindle (drums).
RUFF was written in ebbs and flows: the origin of some tracks stretch back to 2013 and others came together in a matter of days, or in a single band practice. Jeff McMurrich (Jennifer Castle, The Constantines, Fucked Up) recorded RUFF in just three weeks in Toronto. Rusty Santos (Animal Collective, Eric Copeland, Owen Pallett) who produced their acclaimed album, Red, Yellow & Blue, and its follow up, Say It – mixed RUFF in New York.
When it comes to RUFF, its seeming naivety is its power. Throughout the album, unabashed emotive and sonic contradictions are laid bare in order to pose questions on what it is to be, and to critically examine 21st century myths of celebrity that go hand in hand with such accounts. Individual tracks energetically race through conflicting personalities, worlds, moods, and sounds, while the dreamlike album artwork (illustrated by Lalonde) redoubles a sense of tumult.
RUFF opens with the lilting “Don’t Live Up,” a track that’s blissfully deceptive in that, somewhere along the way, it morphs into modulated pop, establishing the album’s tone of unbridled creativity. A mood swing nature also permeates the album’s leadoff single, “We Made It,” which manages to be both meditative and explosive. It trades in extremes of interlocking grooves with talk-sung vocals for the verses, and then rushes skyward for the infectious chorus. Other RUFF standouts are the sedately embittered “Fuck Feelings,” the menacingly optimistic “Stupid Dream” and the irreverently empowering “(Eat Shit) We Did It.”
RUFF stands as a poignant marriage of form, content and process that is without a doubt Born Ruffians’ most focused and mature work to date.