The Born Ruffians are back with “Uncle, Duke & The Chief” and are poised to take over the world one rollicking indie-rock concert at a time. The Born Ruffians are back and they’ve returned to the exuberant call and response indie-rock youthfulness of their critically acclaimed debut, “Red, Yellow, & Blue.” And a decade later they sound mature, relaxed but not too relaxed – – highlighted also by each of the band’s music videos released in support of the album – – there seems to be something going on beneath the surface. Particularly, loss and death are themes that pop up in “Forget Me,” “Fade To Black” and Spread So Thin.”
“We’re all going to die eventually, it’s the one thing we’re all doing. But we’re all on that path together,” said singer and guitarist Luke Lalonde about the thought process behind “Forget Me.” Which also seems to be a theme for the entire album. “Forget Me” and “Spread So Thin” both come back to a kind-forgiving acceptance.
“Someday you’ll get older/I’ll be right behind you/New days hard to shoulder/I’ll be right behind you,” sings Lalonde in “Forget Me.”
In “Spread So Thin” he sings, “There might be pain but I have no fear/I HAVE NO FEAR.” The song ends with “whenever love is blind to you/What you got inside of you don’t spread so thin.”
The album – – released Feb. 16 – – is the first to include the original three-piece lineup since 2013’s “Birthmarks.”
Drummer Steve Hamelin took a break from the band and went back to school without any imminent plans of returning to the group. Lalonde told CBC “[I was] losing focus and losing desire, I guess, for what the band was.”
Until he floated the idea that “If Steve were to come back, I think it would really reinvigorate this band.”
All the songs on the album were written and performed by Lalonde, Derosier, and Hamelin, although Andy Lloyd and producer Richard Swift provide additional instrumentation on all but one track. The result is a more concise, looser album that is much closer to their critically acclaimed debut album, “Red, Yellow, & Blue.” On “Red, Yellow, & Blue,” Lalonde’s vocals are significantly strained – – operatic in an indie-rock way. Their latest release is the band’s softest, a kind of post-punk indie-hipster Mott The Hoople. Songs like their single, “Love Too Soon” and “Side Tracked.”
The return of Hamelin on drums gave the band the impetus to play the album together in the studio and stay away from the production heavily featured on their previous two releases “Birthmarks” and “Ruff.” While the subtle contributions by Swift and Lloyd on melotron, piano, Rolland VK-8, and synthesizer round out and color the band’s rollicking indie style.
The album does feature several jerky up-tempo post-punk jams that reference back to their youthful debut, tracks like “Tricky,” “Miss You,” and “Fade To Black.” The latter sounding surprising like a punk-rock Beatles’ track. The band utilized the shouting-style of backing vocals that was absent from their last two releases. The backup singing style, along with the band’s natural chemistry, add to the uplifting energy of the album.
A bit scrappy
Lalonde explains the band’s approach to music -making in the CDC interview.“I think a lot of times, bands lean too heavy on the studio and forget that they need good songs and so you come out with all the wrinkles ironed out,” he said.
“We just realized that we like records that have mistakes and are a bit scrappy, and that sound like you believe the band is playing – that’s where we realized we sound the best.”
The album title also parallels their debut album, although the band explained that it is in reference to each of their father’s nicknames.
Lyrically, the album isn’t quite as complicated as past releases, although it maintains a consistent theme and aesthetic. Death, loss, contradictions in life and the acceptance of those things. Overall, “Uncle, Duke & The Chief” seems to be a simpler album that draws its energy from collaboration and imperfection. A return to form for the Born Ruffians, not that they were necessarily ever out of form, but they returned to the core aspects that made them a great band.