Born Ruffians: Say It

Categories: Review Roundup
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​As we all slowly warm up to the Tuesday after a holiday like Memorial Day, it's hard to put any focus on new music, and today's new releases reflect that sentiment. There are, however, a few gems in the rather meager new release lineup, like the latest album from Ontario rockers Born Ruffians, Say It.

The Warp Records gang have snuck their sophomore album in today's release lineup perhaps in anticipation for next Tuesday's gargantuan slate of new releases, but pay this fact no mind. Say It is a testament as to why Warp Records -- responsible for bringing the world Jamie Lidell, !!! and Maxïmo Park -- would sign a Canadian indie rock band to their label. The band's pristine, polished sound on their 2008 debut Red, Yellow & Blue is reminiscent of the effort put forth by label mates Grizzly Bear with their 2009 release Veckatimest. Now, Grizzly Bear these Canucks are not, and unfortunately, Say It seems like the band has missed the mark after achieving such a stellar debut.

What the critics are saying:

Pitchfork: Luke Lalonde is a pretty good singer. On Born Ruffians' full-length debut, 2008's Red Yellow & Blue, his voice was a tightly coiled spring that popped off in all the right places, hugging the record's herky-jerky rhythms close and often acting as a primer for the splashes of colorful guitar riffs that ran throughout the record. Even more impressive was his memorable turn on "Jamelia", from Caribou's latest, Swim. Lalonde softly vibed over the track's muted tones and shuffling beat before exploding during its fireworks finale.

So, yeah, guy's got some chops-- not that you would be able to tell from Born Ruffians' sophomore full-length bow, Say It. Lalonde seems to be cursed with a sense of tonal amnesia here; he squeaks when trying to reach his upper register, and when he takes on a lower end, it almost sounds like a piss-take. Sometimes, he sounds out of breath after singing just a few bars of melody; other times, he tries to cram so many melodic syllables into a single run that you wish he'd go get himself a spritzer and chill out or something. The overall result sounds untrained and amateurish-- not off-kilter, just plain off. 

Consequence of Sound: Take the album standout "Come Back". In the most basic sense, it has the legitimacy of a Blues Brothers' track; structured brilliantly and as real as any jam, but with a mischievous energy at its core, a lively sense of humor that gives it a lighthearted feel. Whether it's the overly dramatic saxophone or the speed-of-a-snail pacing, you can never take it too seriously. But the band likes it this way. They paint a real story of pain and heartache (like the line "Isn't everyone trying to make their life their favorite film or something of the like?") that disconnects the group from all of it and hits the listener even harder than if things were grandiose and sweeping. Same goes for the strum-tastic pop number "Blood The Sun And Water", the album opener "Sole Brother", a song of funk that was crafted by a pile of nerds, or the Talking Heads-esque "Retard Canard". Nothing is sacred, and yet, everything feels so well constructed, genuine and impacting. They're not trying to manipulate or create how you should feel toward the music and words. They confuse you on purpose to let the songs make their own mark.

NME: Fuelled by comics, arcade games and trips to the shooting range, the band's minds still twitch with unruly imagination. But this time 'Say It' recalls the airy refreshment of Vampire Weekend's 'Contra' and the garage-pop fun of Jonathan Richman's 'Rock'N'Roll With The Modern Lovers'. Their taut sun-dazed guitar lines wiggle adorably accompanied by just deft polyrhythmic drumming and understated sax (the gently soulful 'Come Back') on folksy, happy-go-lucky psych-pop songs that erase all worry. After all, as Luke LaLondone sings in his just-pubescent voice on 'The Ballad Of Moose Bruce', "What a silly world it is, to be so miserable over something inane as this".  

Boston Phoenix: Now, Toronto trio Born Ruffians may have their turn with their sophomore effort. Fans of the high organization and tempered pop textures of Field Music will adore "Higher and Higher," which twists its minimal quirks tightly around its spartan rhythm as Luke LaLonde's strained vocal stretches like a sail connecting David Byrne, Tom Verlaine, and Hamilton Leithauser. "What To Say" enjoys the subdued soul of a Young Marble Giants track and the jangly simplicity of classic Unrest -- but its fresh change of clothes could be on loan from Vampire Weekend (however that may strike you).

Say It is out now via Warp

And here I had no idea Born Ruffians lead singer Luke Lalonde sang on the Caribou track "Jamelia." The things you learn...
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