It’s not nice to talk bad about Canadians (usually). Our neighbors to the north are good, honest people who have exported plenty of crucial goods and services to us over the years. But more than just oil, timber, and William Shatner, those crazy Canucks have given us a sea of bands. From your Broken Social Scenes to The Tragically Hips of the world, Canada is a land brimming with its own kind of bacon and solid rock bands. Sadly, it’s often hard for a younger, less established band to rise above the cascade of talent. With their second album Say It, the Ontario-based Born Ruffians have taken a small step toward being an export worth talking about. Especially if, like a good Canadian beer, you’re willing to enter with an open palate.
There’s no doubt that the unifying descriptor for many Canadian bands nowadays is rock music infused with the vibe, energy, and basic mechanics of ’70s rock. That and their indie folk leanings and you can see it’s an entire country doing their best to make The Beatles proud. But Born Ruffians present a more varied and nuanced look at the world of rock music. While other bands are inherently serious, the Ruffians are playful with their creations.
Take the album standout “Come Back”. In the most basic sense, it has the legitimacy of a Blues Brothers’ track; structured brilliantly and as real as any jam, but with a mischievous energy at its core, a lively sense of humor that gives it a lighthearted feel. Whether it’s the overly dramatic saxophone or the speed-of-a-snail pacing, you can never take it too seriously. But the band likes it this way. They paint a real story of pain and heartache (like the line “Isn’t everyone trying to make their life their favorite film or something of the like?”) that disconnects the group from all of it and hits the listener even harder than if things were grandiose and sweeping. Same goes for the strum-tastic pop number “Blood The Sun And Water”, the album opener “Sole Brother”, a song of funk that was crafted by a pile of nerds, or the Talking Heads-esque “Retard Canard”. Nothing is sacred, and yet, everything feels so well constructed, genuine and impacting. They’re not trying to manipulate or create how you should feel toward the music and words. They confuse you on purpose to let the songs make their own mark.
But for the same reason the album succeeds, the band could potentially stifle themselves. “Nova Leigh” is a beautifully poetic track, one with personal meaning and universal relevance. “What To Say” is unbelievably honest and full of great witty lyrical choices. But when paired with playful New Wave synths and some Strokes-ian/bar room guitar work, you lose some of that depth. Yes, their other tracks have great emotional resonance, but in a whole album of songs like “Come Back”, you beg for the vibe to be switched up. The album excels at masquerading pain in the guise of killer rock/indie-pop songs, but that can be detrimental to the listener’s experience. While “The Ballad of Moose Bruce” is a closer example of what the band needed more of in this album, its slightly menacing bassline and epic, soaring approach is nearly ruined by the tune’s jangly nature.
It’s not hypocritical to praise something and also condemn it; rather, it’s a tiny prayer for their next release. For as good as the album is, without plenty of growth and some emotional diversity beyond dressing up their feelings as gleaming pop gems, the band will book themselves a one-way ticket to the musical Canadian tundra.