The music industry convention of calling a second album a “sophomore record” makes it sound like rock is some kind of college, which is weird. If Born Ruffians’ 2008 debut album Red Yellow and Blue was the result of a talented and precocious gang of freshmen, their 2010 follow-up, Say It, would be the project they left school to finish — a declaration that they’re smart and ambitious enough to make it on their own, and furthermore, that they’re in it for the long haul.
Where Red Yellow and Blue began with a utopian dream, Say It opens with “Oh Man,” a jagged romp that finds singer/guitarist Luke Lalonde shaking his head at a romantic fool, and trying to steer him right. “You’ve got to go man,” he explains, riding smoothly over Mitch DeRosier’s galloping bassline and Steve Hamelin’s malleable but steady drum pattern, “and go take your place in this wonderful race.” A ragged echo slaps back at the guitar like wind in the band’s faces; they don’t flinch.
“We had two and a half weeks to work on Say It,” Lalonde says, “which wasn’t quite a luxurious amount of time, but it was more luxurious than we had during the sessions for Red Yellow and Blue, when we had two weeks to record and mix it. Then, we were doing two songs a day.” Again teaming up with producer Rusty Santos, the Ruffians and co. holed up at Mississauga’s Metalworks studio and loosed the reins on their ambitions, experimenting with Minimoogs and saxophones before eventually scaling much of it back in the mixing process. Not that it was a wasted effort; DeRosier says, “I think it was important that we did that, adding things just to hear how they sounded.”
You can still hear the nuts and bolts of the songs, with guitar hanging out on its own (the jagged arpeggios in “Late”) or a bassline running away with that infectious crazy-quilt, “Retard Canard.” Which, incidentally, isn’t about the developmentally delayed. Lalonde: “Retard Canard is about a certain kind of person who feels like they don’t fit in, or can’t fit in and get along in life. That’s where the “not part of the human race” lyric comes from; it’s about how you just have to do it, or die trying.” And the residue of their production experiments can be traced in the swooning sax licks dangling over “Come Back” or the watery synths lurking in the tightly-wound “What To Say”: “When I get drunk I’m speaking more / get too drunk and I don’t speak at all / get too close to you and I don’t know / what to say.” Hamelin describes “What To Say” as “one of those songs where we put it together out of a bunch of different ideas, and it really came together as a cohesive whole. Unlike some of the songs we’ve put together out of a bunch of ideas, and they sound like a bunch of different ideas.” The parts hang together, a clattering machine bonded by a combination of kinetic energy and unshakeable confidence.
With Hamelin having reversed his earlier declaration that he no longer planned to tour with the band (“Steve was always going to be recording with us,” says Lalonde. “If we had to get another drummer to go on tour, we would have done it”) and ex-Caribou bassist Andy Lloyd joining them on tour to fill out Say It’s added complexities, Born Ruffians are ready to pull on their boots and get down to business. Let the sophomores stumble — these guys are showing up to work every day, paying the rent on time and sharing a secret laugh with the bartender. School’s out.