Born Ruffians

Red, Yellow, & Blue (Warp) - 3.5 stars

Wide-eyed and twitching, Born Ruffians’ eponymous debut EP was as excitable as a six-year-old waiting in line for a SpongeBob ice pop. Thumping cuts like “I’m One of Those Girls” gained the Midland, Ontario trio loads of attention in the blogosphere, and tours with indie heavyweights Hot Chip and Peter, Björn and John have helped them establish a pretty sizeable fan base for such a young band. Their sophomore effort and first full album, “Red, Yellow & Blue,” is a meatier work than its predecessor, not only in length (it’s more than 20 minutes longer) but in feel as well. While angular guitar riffs over precise drumming and a pulsing bass still make up a majority of the album, an acoustic track and a few down-tempo songs show an unexpected but welcome maturity.

Granted, they haven’t fully dispensed with their energetic-indie-pop sheen, but that probably wasn’t their aim. If you can get past Luke Lalonde’s sometimes yelpy vocals, the album will have you smiling and nodding your head.

“Red, Yellow & Blue” doesn’t exactly jump out of the gates, but it definitely hits its stride early. The title track is also the first, and it opens up on an uncharacteristically mellow note that showcases the Ruffians’ ability to produce something pretty. While it only has one verse, “Red, Yellow And Blue” is probably the lyrical highpoint of the album, laying out the feeling of the songs to come through its poetic interpretation of the primary colors.

Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—this is one of only a few tracks on which the lyrics are clear and audible, as most of the album’s mixing focues on instrumentation at the expense of vocals.

“Hummingbird,” which was released as a single last year, appears third on the disc and is probably the best example of the punchy style in which the Ruffians do their best work. Very rarely does a single moment in one song transform a decent album into a good album, but the instrumental break halfway through “Hummingbird” really sets the mood for everything to come. In 20 unmissable seconds, Lalonde demonstrates excellent restraint and lets the effects pedal do the work for him as he solos over Mitch Derosier’s running bass line.

The band’s real potential lies not its ability to work within its comfort zone, but in the ease with which it creates the unexpected. “Little Garcon,” the only purely acoustic track on the record, shows a folk side that really demonstrates the band’s artistic depth, not to mention some very cool stomp-and-clap percussion and the best vocals on the record. “Badonkadonkey,” which comes next, sort of sounds like a chopped-and-screwed version of some thrown-away Lou Reed chords, and while it might not be the best cut on the album, it does get my vote for best song name of the year.

Further evidence of maturity can be found in the album’s closer, “Red Elephant,” which isn’t a Sunny Day Real Estate cover, but does have a very cool bass hum that makes its punctuated guitar riffs sound even spikier.

Occasionally, the Ruffians’ newfound warmth betrays them. “I Need a Life” suffers from a lack of bite: the bass doesn’t thump hard enough and the guitar isn’t distorted enough to give this simple, swinging song a real feel. Plus the chant kind of sounds like a shitty Six Flags jingle.

The Born Ruffians might still be a few years away from making a great full-length album. The biggest flaw of “Red, Yellow & Blue” is that it lacks a single, continuous thread to string its diverse tracks together. And while this precludes its greatness, the promise and creativity demonstrated by these Canadians is just enough to keep the album afloat.