As the profile of twitchy ambient music continues to fall from its late-nineties height of critical adulation, it makes sense for Warp Records to diversify its portfolio of artists. The gambit has paid recent dividends, with well-received albums from Broadcast and Grizzly Bear keeping the label's name on the lips of in-the-know webutantes. Perhaps this desire to cater to the indie-loving masses has lead the innovative imprint to err too far on the side of the conventional with its latest release, the self-titled EP by Toronto's Born Ruffians.
When the EP is successful, it is due to the bug-eyed delivery of singer Luke LaLonde. Even though opener "This Sentence Will Ruin/Save Your Life," borrows heavily from the yelp-and-strum aesthetic of the Pixies, it's compelling because LaLonde commits to the necessary level of screeching dementia. The disc's best song, "Merry Little Fancy Things," burns out and starts again every thirty seconds like a chubby man on the first day of his New Year's work-out pledge. The lack of continuity gives the frequent barking eruptions an unpredictable quality, recalling Mark E. Smith without the unchecked misanthropy.
The key ingredient that both tracks share is a manic energy that is rare elsewhere on the EP. Without the wild-man vocal act, the timid guitar and bass loop on the inappropriately named "Hedonistic Me" can't handle the spotlight. Not yet mature enough in their song craft to manage sophisticated restraint, the members of Born Ruffians often settle for a familiar indie sound that's short on surprises. The result is akin to a less memorable Tapes n' Tapes, which I'm not sure anyone asked for.
While building on the template of well-tread titans like Black Francis, anything less than complete conviction is a recipe for an underwhelming listen. It's obvious that the young musicians can occasionally summon up the passion it takes to cobble their influences into a distinct sound, but the six-song Born Ruffians is still two short of a successful four-track EP.
Label: http://www.warprecords.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/bornruffians