A band like Born Ruffians comes along once every year or so – a band audacious enough to succeed only with the elements of rock music. While every other blog prodigy out there is busy cooking up a multi-hyphenated genre stew (post-kraut-freak-folk-afrobeat, anyone?), these bands somehow manage to take the dusty old conventions of rock, twist them slightly askew, and emerge with something new and invigorating. Two-thirds of the time, these groups hail from Canada. Just what the hell do they put in the water up there?
There are but three Born Ruffians: guitarist/singer Luke LaLonde, bassist Mitch DeRosier and drummer Steve Hamelin. Like the primary colors of their debut album title, each of the trio shines on his own in the mix. There’s very little secondary shading: few overdubs, no spacey effects, and nary a wasted moment. Hamelin even studiously avoids hitting a crash cymbal unless absolutely necessary. It’s a minimal setup that recalls the early work of Violent Femmes, and the group’s forceful, catchy tales of misspent youth do little to diminish the comparison.
Following the title track’s history class daydream, the Ruffians kick into gear with “Barnacle Goose,” an anthem of post-adolescent jitters that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The shouted backup vocals continually ambush LaLonde’s opening stanzas before the band starts pounding away in unison, building to a cathartic finale. “Hummingbird” admirably tries to match its namesake’s beats-per-minute, falling just short in the attempt.
Despite their obvious penchant for scattershot pop, Born Ruffians also fare well in more restrained settings. Pulsing merrily along, “Hedonistic Me” imagines a simpler life of making the fields fertile by day and the wife fertile by night. “Foxes Mate for Life,” meanwhile, is a touching look at romance in the animal kingdom. Who says nature has to be cruel?
Born Ruffians have constructed their own little playland from the familiar elements of indie pop: helium-fueled vocals, jangly guitar, and manic delivery. Their sound doesn’t deconstruct or reconstruct anything; it just kicks some tail. While arty effects wankery may be the currency of the day in some circles, Red, Yellow and Blue gives a lesson in the value of personality over pretension. Just play the damn tunes and let the kids decide.