Fresh Beats: Throwback Thursday edition

Fresh Beats: Throwback Thursday edition

Fresh Beats: Throwback Thursday edition
October 15
23:51 2014

Matt Wood / Senior Staff Writer

We’ve come a long way since 2008. Back then, people were angry at Obama, the economy was in shambles and people were freaking about the new iPhone. But now, we — well, never mind.

Musically, though, the world of indie and garage rock was in free fall. After The Strokes stormed the scene and every music critic jumped at the opportunity to call it the “new Velvet Underground,” the band went silent for four years. It left behind a vacuum, and in The Strokes’ wake many bands tried to mimic that success or be the next innovators.

At the peak of this, in 2008, came a humble little record “Red, Yellow & Blue” by Born Ruffians: 11 tracks, 39 minutes long and the receptor of very tepid critical praise. This was a much-needed deviation from the garage-rock formula of The Strokes: highly rhythmic, clean guitars and lilting vocals created something that would eventually be replicated several times by more pop-influenced indie acts.

The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas was the rugged, grungy, street smart New York rebel that everyone was desperate to emulate. Born Ruffians frontman Luke Lalonde was an awkward, lanky dude with a weird voice from Ontario. And sure, the land of indie rock is flush with gawky, lanky dudes from Canada, but Born Ruffians appealed perfectly to the crowd that couldn’t exactly identify with the Casablancas type.

I admit, I was one of them. Almost exactly four years ago I was an awkward, not-so-lanky dude from Plano, halfway through high school and fittingly clueless. But out of nowhere, I experienced a John Hughes-esque moment: an older and infinitely “cooler” person took pity on me and took me under his proverbial wing.

And he showed me this record, among many others. On Oct. 15, the little band that made this little album was playing a little show up in Denton at Hailey’s. There I witnessed what was the height of the tiny band and loyal fan experience that binds the local music community. Even if Born Ruffians wasn’t a Denton band, the intimate venue and the band’s smaller appeal gave the show the same atmosphere.

At this sparse show, there were fewer than 100 people attending, but every single person there was singing the words to every song, particularly “Little Garcon.” The soft acoustic number had everyone engaged with Lalonde as he closed his eyes in a calm focus and cooed the lyrics “I get told / to never grow old / but the way it unfolds.” And here, seeing the unifying power of small bands in cramped venues, I was staggered by the impact it had.

And for some reason, I always come back to this album. Almost once a month, I rediscover this album and have gradually learned every song on it. Sure, it would be easy to dismiss it as a case of nostalgia and reminiscence, but I will stalwartly defend this album and its powers.

So what magic is in this record? It isn’t groundbreaking. It didn’t launch the band into stardom, and it only had three instruments and three members at a time when bands were growing larger (for context, six-piece Arcade Fire had just begun its rise).

Born Ruffians created a record of intimate, honest storytelling under the guise of upbeat, unbelievably catchy songs. And it did it with an airtight control of rhythms and mastery of vocal melodies and harmonies. The call-and-response style of vocals between Lalonde and the other members of the band lends itself to be performed live with everyone involved.

And there isn’t a single song on the album that feels like an afterthought. Whether he’s lamenting leaving a love or quoting his favorite novel, Lalonde pours out a brand of starkly honest lyrics that are always, in some way, relatable. It’s not just in the literal lyrical content, but even in the quirks of Lalonde’s voice that make him sound like a regular person trying to be a musician, and not a musician trying to convince you he’s a regular person like you.

The idea of tagging the word “honesty” onto an album has been beaten to death by music critics. So instead I’ll say this: “Red, Yellow & Blue” is sincere. In its eponymous first track, Lalonde hums over the colors he would choose for the flag of his fictional country.

But then you get dropped into the grit of the record. “Barnacle Goose” sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s heavy on drums and sporadic rhythms, it has Lalonde taking unexpected vocal turns and the instruments play off of each other to impressive effect. Lalonde matter-of-factly rattles off his sense of self-loathing, “I’m frustrated with myself but I can’t change / I don’t want to be me anymore.” From these first lyrics, Lalonde then descends into a back-and-forth tale of strain, strife and struggle until he thinks himself to sleep.

It may not change your life Garden State style, but it speaks volumes that the record can endure six years and come out standing strong as an example of what smart indie rock can accomplish through outstanding musicianship and clever songwriting.

Key tracks: “Barnacle Goose,” “Little Garcon,” “Kurt Vonnegut.”

Featured Image: Born Ruffians performing at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City in 2007. The Canadian indie rock band formed in 2004. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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