Born Ruffians – Say It (album review)

It was almost 2 years ago exactly that Born Ruffians’ debut album Red Yellow & Blue came out. At the time, the trio drew a lot of different comparisons, but didn’t really line up with any of them, as they sort of flitted around to their own beat and sound, mixing up indie rock with R&B and several other styles. In other words, they sounded like an odd choice for Warp Records, and with their second album they’ll probably leave even more people scratching their heads.

I guess that’s the nice way of saying that Say It isn’t even as immediately accessible as their first full length. At the same time, though, the 10 songs and just under 40 minutes here are also the sorts of songs that burrow down into your brain and keep you coming back for another listen.

As a whole, the release isn’t nearly as propulsive, and at times feels almost sloppy. Lead singer Luke LaLonde’s vocals are strained at times and even more nasal than before, while the rhythm sections feel skeletal and shambolic, with odd, painterly guitar melodies and dang-near stream-of-consciousness bursts of both music and vocals. The incredibly spare first single (“What To Say”) is about as far removed as you could possibly imagine considering their previous energy bursts of “Hummingbird” and “I Need A Life.”

Lest the previous paragraph sounds like I’m slagging the album, let me state that it’s those qualities and more that actually attract me to it. It’s a very odd, yet very human record, with words that at time touch on deep meanings while in other places are almost groan-inducing. Most of all, though, it makes you want to sing along with it.

All of these things are on display right out of the gate, as, “Oh Man” takes some first weary steps with wobbly, dry guitar strums before jogging forward with a jangly structure as LaLonde lets loose with some of his most expressive vocals to date, with scratchy, almost gurgling lows, and some punctual, almost nonsensical enunciation.

“Oh Man” – Born Ruffians

From there, the album is all over the place, from the aforementioned minimal soul of “What To Say” to the chugging, “The Ballad of Moose Bruce.” “Higher And Higher” is one of the best stabs at a pop song on the album, but like most everything else here it’s certainly not straightforward. Instead, it wiggles around uncomfortably, with choppy snare bursts and brittle guitars while LaLonde again goes from subdued to near-screaming. By the latter third, it turns into a fleshed-out piece replete with backup vocals and synth harmonies, and the awkward journey there makes it all the more effective.

“Higher And Higher” – Born Ruffians

And really, that’s what Say It is most effective at. There are a few songs with verse/chorus structures, but it’s more about the journey and the cheer energy release than anything, and for sheer expression, it’s an album that works in spades.

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