Check out Born Ruffians newest album Say It to hear musicians wrestling something out of nothing. If you wanted your band to stand out, you could hire a charismatic frontman, wicked rhythm section, poetic lyricist, or generic hot girl. Born Ruffians approximate none of those things, but they have a memorable second album nonetheless.

Even by most indie-rock standards, their story is slight: three dudes from Midland, Ontario, a town founded and named by a shipping company, start up a guitar/drum/bass band, release a pleasant debut (Red, Yellow, and Blue) which gets more recognition for a remix (“I Need a Life”, dismantled and reassembled into something unrecognizable by Four Tet) than its original content.

And yet, for listeners that took time to hear them out in full, Born Ruffians revealed a streak of whimsy in their sound. Despite a deficiency of ambition, they’re clearly having fun, crafting off-key singalongs and weird digressions, hardly interested in the immediate ham-fisted punch of rock ‘n’ roll. They might just be, at the end of the day, 9-to-5 urban dudes, but instead of transforming that lifestyle into grand majesty like The National or Titus Andronicus, Say It turns post-grad malaise into something that closely resembles it: relaxed, amusing, occasionally tedious, yet open to sudden left turns. The album sails on its own peculiarity.

Leader “Oh Man” kicks in with a repeated chord suggesting a dip into surf-guitar territory, before cutting back several times. Then, against a bouncy rhythm, Luke LaLonde dispenses cryptic advice for a friend (or himself), but here’s the thing: the song slowly becomes more confident, as LaLonde barks, wails, and comes close to tearing his voice. The song comes in skipping and leaves marching - from nothing, we’ve got something going. From a mid-tempo jam, comes an approximation of greatness. But with the opportunity to really rock out, the thing just ends, a problem that comes up more than once on Say It.

“Retard Canard” interpolates The Ink Spots’ 1941 hit “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire” into something like Hank Williams fronting The Clash, but again, doesn’t raise quite high enough until its final 40 seconds, about the time LaLonde gets appropriately furious on most of his songs. The better “Nova Leigh” finds its footing earlier, building instead of coasting, as does “The Ballad of Moose Bruce”, much better than its title suggests.  

There must be some people who love Born Ruffians. Like Sloan, another Canadian band who racked up a lot of attention despite being as sonically anonymous as possible, I guess they prove there’s an audience out there for mellow rock with minor idiosyncrasies. Further albums could rock harder, push further, but Say It is a positive step.

Born Ruffians
Album: Say It (Warp Records, 39 minutes)
Rating: 3.5/5
Key Tracks: “Oh Man”, “The Ballad of Moose Bruce”, “Nova Leigh”

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