Midland, Ontario musicians Born Ruffians are back with the almost self-titled album Ruff, their fifth studio album released via Paper Bag Records, who have been involved with all but one of the band’s albums. Ruff is rooted in vintage sounding production that is so hot in the scene right now, yet still shows off some versatility in style.
It opens with “Don’t Live Up,” which noodles around with a delightful blues riff that matches up nicely with the vocals of Luke Lalonde, the likes of which steal the show throughout the entire album. The transition from bluesy guitar and vocals to the deep and somber tones of “Stupid Dreams”, demonstrates this well. Here, bass guitar serves to darken the song while Lalonde sings in lower octaves and slides up to vibrating falsettos that fervently end each chorus.
The album continues through transitions with “Yawn Tears,” which is by far the most interesting track to be found on Ruff. The guitar strums a three-fourths time signature that feels exhausting compared to the previous track, yet stands out for its relaxing sound. The hilariously titled “When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away” is the next big track. A catchy upward/downwards acoustic strum pattern greets the ear as Lalonde’s vocals go from clear and deep to nasally. There is a catchy increase in that tone that is sure to hook you in as he just keeps ascending pitches. Lalonde’s ability to continue belting lyrics seemingly without breathing leaves you gasping for air. The song also breaks down beautifully in its last minute, as piano and synthesizer become the only instruments save for Lalonde’s airy wails. This was a welcome reprieve as I found myself needing things to be slowed down just a little so that I could catch my breath.
The later portion of the album takes on an early 90’s emo/grunge feel as songs like “Fuck Feelings” and “We Made It” utilize slow-tempo and glassy-toned guitar and bass to get dark and saucy. As if to remind you of just how versatile they are, the band ends the album with “Shade to Shade,” complete with warm and fuzzy synthesizer, echoing guitar, and light drumming on the offbeat. It is pretty much the definition of Indie pop.
When it comes down to it, Ruff is a versatile showing by a band that hasn’t been afraid to do things a little differently in their 11-year career. Lalonde’s vocal range is the star of the show as it changes often throughout the album. Both factors help Ruff achieve rarity as an album that thoroughly entertains from start to finish.
Luke Williams grew up a fan of punk and pop punk in a field of cows just outside of Barrie, Ontario. You can follow him on Twitter @musicwithluke