Sonic Reducer: Born Ruffians • Andrew Bird • A$Ap Ferg

Robin Babb
4 min read
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On last year’s album, RUFF and this new EP XTRA RUFF, we’re seeing a much more jaded Born Ruffians than we’ve seen before. On “You Loser,” Lalonde sings “we watch you suffer, breaking your heart for nothing/you loser”—it’s a far cry from the sweaty teen-boy enthusiasm from debut album Red, Yellow & Blue. “It Could Be So” is the most reminiscent of their earlier sound, with shiny, noodly guitars and Lalonde’s un-self-conscious, yelping falsetto. The emotional core of the EP is an alternate take of a track from RUFF, “Shade to Shade,” a minimal cut with just vocals and reverb-drenched piano. Although lyrically sparse, it’s the most intimate recording I’ve heard from the band. Altogether, XTRA RUFF paints a picture of a mid-career indie band that’s starting to tire of the hustle and the heartbreak of constant touring and selling one’s self. It’s a downer, but worth a spin.

Andrew Bird Are You Serious (Loma Vista Records)

Are You Serious is the most un-Andrew-Bird-like Andrew Bird album, but fans will not be disappointed. There’s still plenty of his virtuoso whistling and violin plucking, but there’s a slicker sound to the whole thing than to, say, Armchair Apocrypha. This is likely because Bird had a producer work on this album, a departure for him. First track “Capsized” opens with electric guitar and a full drum set, things rarely heard in Bird’s oeuvre. On “Left Handed Kisses,” which features call-and-response with Fiona Apple, we see two musicians who know how to play with melody, never singing a line the same way twice. “Valleys of the Young” is about Bird and his wife’s decision to have a baby, one they didn’t take lightly: “From their cradle to our grave/Is it selfish or is it brave?” Are You Serious is Bird’s move against being pigeonholed, and it pays off quite well.

A$AP Ferg Always Strive and Prosper (A$AP Worldwide/Polo Grounds Music)

A$AP Ferg’s second album Always Strive and Prosper goes in a different direction from his very trap-focused album Trap Lord. Here, we’re seeing a more introspective Ferg, pulling material from his childhood and showing a vulnerability rarely seen in the rap world. “Psycho” is the most interesting track on the album, an ode to Ferg’s gangster uncle: “He was cut like Bruce Lee but he didn’t know karate/he came home bloody screaming “Nobody can stop me!” “Let You Go” is another peek under Ferg’s armor, a slow song for his concerned girlfriend who listens to his music and asks “You talk about your experience with other women/how you think that be lookin’?” There are some forgettable tracks like “New Level,” which is all bass and no bite—but overall, ASAP is a great album from a mature rapper who’s not taking the well-traveled route to trap music fame.

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