by Chris Hatch
Earlier this year, Born Ruffians released Juice – a perfect encapsulation of the effervescent pop sound they’ve fine tuned for the past decade and a half. Sessions for that album found the band overflowing with material, and the result of which can be found in their latest album, Squeeze. But far from being an album of studio offcuts and half-baked ideas, Squeeze sees Born Ruffians explore more expansive and adventurous areas of their songwriting.
If previous records have seen Born Ruffians rocketing from A to B in a whirl of pop hooks, catchy earworms, and on-the-money melodies, Squeeze finds them take the long and winding road to that same destination. That’s not to say that this record is ponderous or overindulgent – no, Born Ruffians still nail the pop moments, and elicit moments of moreish, hedonistic joy – it’s just that this time they’re not afraid to take the less obvious route.
Album-opener Sentimental Saddle, for example, takes us on ‘a wave of psychic radiation’ – it’s opening, droning synths make way for stomping, hippyish 60s psych, before an A Day In The Life-esque mini-crescendo segues into a a bouncy final section. Lead single, 30th Century War, sees Born Ruffians at their catchiest – a bright, jangly burst of joy that pits The Smiths’ The Headmaster’s Ritual against the tension of Talking Heads. Lyrically, it’s a sideswipe at modern life – but if there was a worry that the perils of 2020 had taken it out of the band, vocalist Luke Lalonde’s perfectly placed ‘uh huh’ at the start of the track puts things in context; 30th Century War isn’t a screaming, sneering indictment on the state of things, instead, it’s a withering, half-knowing, sideways glance.
The album’s first act is rounded off by the surefooted dreaminess of Waylaid. A foray into lovelorn emo – Lalonde, joined by guest vocalist, Hannah Georgas, and her natural, understated tone are perfectly placed to bring the heady themes of love and loss back down to earth. Over crisp drums, rumbling bass and sensuous, golden-hued guitars, her voice has the every-day, enticing quality of the likes of Soccer Mommy and Frankie Cosmos. Perhaps the finest track on the record, it gradually cranks up to a layered, blustering outro and confirms Georgas and Born Ruffians’ partnership as an unlikely but beautifully matched one.
Elsewhere, Born Ruffians continue their journey into new territory – Sinking Ships, Death Bed, and Leaning On You have the woozy, trippy production of The Beatles after they’d let their moptops become shaggy and their beards become long. It’s all slapback delay and reverb, with guitar and synth parts stitched together to create an almost orchestral backing. The multi-parted Death Bed, in particular, is the most twisting and meandering – blossoming into a final half singalong, while Leaning On You benefits from some gorgeous 80s, soft rock production flourishes.
On balance, Squeeze finds Born Ruffians dipping a cautious toe into new waters, without really fully taking the plunge. The fresh textures and approaches that dot the record make for a welcome change in tact, and definitely warrant the release of their second album this year. It has to be said, however, that their strength still remains in their exuberant pop sensibilities. Save for the wonderful duet with Georgas, it’s the toothsome pop of 30th Century War and Rainbow Superfriends that will stick with you the longest.