Born Ruffians Jolts Nerves On ‘Ruff’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


born3Born Ruffians are a quirky bunch. Hailing from Toronto, they’ve made a respectable name for themselves north of the border, having received extensive airplay on the CBC and by touring quite extensively. While part of their repute comes by way of covers — an early version of Grizzly Bear’s “Knife” helped bring them to the airwaves early on — it was their assorted Canadian television appearances and a 2008 album, Red, Yellow & Blue, that accelerated their fame and brought them an array of indie accolades.

Nevertheless, those less familiar with the band’s backstory might have a harder time pinning down their MO, given their penchant for twitchy tempos and a tendency to cast their songs with  somewhat bizarre headings. The new album Ruff is no exception; the array of track titles includes “Fuck Feelings,” “(Eat Shit) We Did It,” “Yawn Tears” and the slacker sentiments implied by “When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away.” Indeed, if there’s some inside joke or snarky sense of humor, it’s hard to discern. In essence though it matters little; the band’s frenetic melodies and effusive energy provides a disconnect that makes sing-alongs a difficult proposition to begin with.

Some pundits have compared Born Ruffians to the Talking Heads due to their flighty approach, but that would deny them their singular style. They can rock with determination, as evidenced by the aptly-named “& On & On & On,” or take an occasional respite, as heard in the dramatically drawn-out “Fuck Feelings” and the unusually effusive “Shade to Shade.” Generally though, they maintain a jittery pace, one which keeps the group on a seemingly endless treadmill of non-stop gyrations. Consequently, it makes for an uneasy listen, one that sometimes seems intent on jolting some nerves and keeping listeners guessing as to where they’re headed next. Granted, they can be considered a weird bunch, but one can also surmise that it’s merely an attempt at charm. Irreverence is a by-product of both youth and rock ‘n’ roll, and Born Ruffians clearly have a handle on both.

Ultimately Ruff is anything but. For all their off-kilter twists and turns, Born Ruffians seem to know exactly what they’re doing and engineer matters accordingly. Granted, they’re an acquired taste, but their’s is a singular sound regardless.

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