In the beginning of March, I was minding my own business, watching Saturday Night Live and putzing around online, when I got a one-two indie rock punch. Bam! Vampire Weekend will be musical guests on Saturday Night Live. Pow! They’re on the cover of Spin magazine. Did I miss something? Or did I become so out of touch with the music blogosphere that I missed that memo that Vampire Weekend is supposed to be everyone’s favorite band…this month, at least. Herky-jerky indie rock songs are in, I suppose.
The current wave of goodwill towards Vampire Weekend may turn out to be a good thing for Toronto trio Born Ruffians. With their similar arrangements and fondness for yelpy vocals, there are bound to be comparisons. Even so, Born Ruffians’ debut full-length is a rather endearing record, full of punchy promise.
Born Ruffians describe their sound as `hootin’ and hollerin’.’ I can’t really think of a better descriptor than that. Singer/guitarist Luke LaLonde’s voice is thin and wiry (much like the singer himself) and prone to yelps and shrieks. He’s the lead candidate for a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah cover band singer. However, it’s his voice that is partly what makes the band so endearing. LaLonde’s vocals go hand in hand with the lyrics that embody youthful angst and romanticism. These are the kids practicing in your neighbor’s garage, and it ain’t half bad.
Departing from songs that were featured on their two previous EPs, the album opens with the meditative title track. Working with Rusty Santos (who also mixed records by Animal Collective and Panda Bear), has clearly been an influence here. The song lifts the lulling guitars of Grizzly Bear with the soaring harmonies of Animal Collective. LaLonde muses about starting his own country with the flag colors of red, yellow and blue. It’s a nice thought and the genuine idealistic naivety isn’t so much as annoying as it is cute.
However, “Red, Yellow and Blue” sounds a little out place when you have the louder, punchier “Barnacle Goose” following it. It’s almost as if the band figured, “we need something different…I know!” “Hummingbird” follows the herky-jerky path and unfortunately brings the album down a bit. It sounds no different from any other random emo-tinged song, especially with the refrain, “we’re not gonna die like this!” The band redeem themselves elsewhere. The Built to Spill circa There’s Nothing Wrong With Love-ish “Badonkadonkey” is prime example of that. I gotta tell you, I think this song is just great. It’s a giddy song about love even “when the money’s gone” and the drumming by Steven Hamelin is just spot-on.
Then you’ve got “Foxes Mate for Life.” It bounces and the best part may be Mitch DeRosier’s groovy bassline. The romantic lyrics are sugary sweet but just enough to keep the cynicism at bay. Of course there is also the Hummingbird EP highlight “Kurt Vonnegut.” While I won’t rehash what I’ve already said about the song, I will say that while “Hummingbird” faltered on repeated listenings, “Kurt Vonnegut” just got better. With LaLonde beckoning a girl to the window, this song is the new “In Your Eyes.” With its epic tone, you’d think that “Kurt Vonnegut” would close the album. You’d be wrong. “Red Elephant” sounds a little like an afterthought and the band ends up overstaying their welcome just a bit.
Even with the missteps, I can’t help but like Red, Yellow and Blue. They’re smart enough to keep the songs from getting too repetitive and there’s just something so catchy and addictive. It’s like indie rock candy. I like these Ruffians and I’m rooting for them. There are enough good songs to show a great deal of promise for future endeavors and enough to garner them a nice following. Here’s wishing them a keen ear for editing and some room for experimentation.