Born Ruffians: RUFF

The Canadian indie-rockers have never quite made it to the top of the pile - will they get lucky this time?

- Canadian indie-rock band, Born Ruffians seem to have always existed just under the radar.  Sure they’ve had their successes, and they have certainly written some great albums over the years, but none of that has ever translated into tangible and ongoing recognition. Their debut record Red, Yellow & Blue had the potential to really shake up the indie scene of the late 2000s.  Yet despite some killer singles they’ve never reached the dizzying heights of indie success or relevance like Vampire Weekend, Metronomy, Passion Pit and MGMT

RUFF, their fourth studio record follows 2013’s Birthmarks.  The album sounds like it’s meant to be played live.  To excuse the pun, it’s a ‘rough’ record, though not in the sense that it’s underdone or incomplete; it feels quite natural. It’s also as if one day the band decided to lay down all the ideas they have and go from there.  Because of this, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but there’s an underlying narrative, driven primarily by Luke LaLonde’s vocals, that keeps it all together. 

Opener Don’t Live Up is a standout and surprisingly unlike most of the other songs.  From the stop-start of the staccato guitar melody to the crooning soft vocals, it’s fun and fresh, without any hint of pretension or heavy-handed indie tropes. Stupid Dream is much tighter, with a driving beat, new wave guitar and big vocals, it sounds like Spoon and Vampire Weekend collaborated to make the backing music to an ‘80’s movie montage.

Yawn Tears is the most recent single. It starts slow with a simple guitar riff and provides some breathing space amongst the frenetic energy of the record’s top half.  When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away is one of the few songs to favour the acoustic guitar, it’s a fun and quirky track that captures the spontaneous yet thoughtful vibe of the whole album.  & On & On & On is filled with the harmonic “oohs” and “ahhs” of earlier Born Ruffians releases, layered over a slow building drum beat. 

As the title may suggest, Fuck Feelings is a little angry. “Fuck no hard feelings / All I got is hard feelings,” sings LaLonde in a refreshing, upfront take on the frustrations and pitfalls of relationships and their demise.  The guys push their luck again with the track (Eat Shit) We Did It, a cheeky Violent Femmes-esque jangly, acoustic-guitar song. Lead single We Made It is buried deep into the record, surprising and serving to reinvigorate the dwindling bottom half.  The record closes on Shade To Shade with a synth melody that carries all the hallmarks of a great Bowie song though without the bravado.

RUFF is an engaging and fun indie-rock record. Though it doesn’t reach the greatness of their first couple of albums, you can’t help but wonder if it would matter at all if it did; maybe it’ll be a relief, not leave the band feeling like they’ve been cruelly passed over. It experiments with a lot of elements quite successfully, though it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this album really needs a live audience.  Born Ruffians haven’t been to Australia since their second album though they’d be a welcome addition to our Summer festival programs – perhaps with this latest release, they’ll find their way back.

- Clare Armstrong.

Album Details

Album Title: RUFF
Artist: Born Ruffians
Record Label: (Paper Bag / Yep Roc / Redeye