Stones Throw Records
Review by Kent Manthie
Vex Ruffin, an “untrained punk musician”, which is what I keep reading on the web, in regard to what he’s all about. However, his music seems more deeply rooted than that. I’ve heard him called hip-hop as well, but I believe that neither label fit his unique style.
On his new, self-titled album for Stones Throw Records which comes out next week, Vex shows off this minimalist, drone, technique with dope beats and a panoply of instruments and sounds.
This 12-song CD is a pleasure to listen to. The music has a cerebral touch to it that opens up your mind and spills out the extra baggage until you can focus on the here-and-now. The fact that he is “untrained”, at least in typical musical instruments, such as piano or guitar, etc. doesn’t affect the outcome of this lovely record. It’s a mishmash of electronic equipment – synths, drum machine and a bass guitar thrown in for good measure.
The album opens up with “Living for the Future”, which is quite minimalistic, but in an inviting sort of way that piques one’s interest and, after listening on to more of it, you’ll find that it has a groovy edge to it. The beats on here are a real driving force that keeps the whole project going. “Prime of my Life” is a tad more upbeat, but still in that same funk-flavored minimalistic force that has a punk sneer to it. It goes on this way for a few more tunes until you get to “Be the Man” which really brings out the punk side of Vex more than the previous. His singing on “Be the Man” as well as the guitar noodling and railing set to a simple 4/4 drum beat reminds me of Throbbing Gristle on 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Listening to that one evoked T.G. right away. Then, after “Be the Man”, he continues the punk escapades with “Need More Followers” a song that sounds like someone who really wants to be loved and admired, not to detract from it, just an observation, mind you. It could be completely facetious too.
“Down in the Basement” sounds like he’s in the basement with a homemade percussion kit and a bass guitar, singing about being down in his basement.
It seems as if the further the album gets on, the more experimental, punk-inspired is Vex’s continuum. I must say that I find this review easy to write since the material on which I’m writing is so easy to like and has an easy way to describe and articulate.
Yes, besides the “dope beats” on the first couple of tunes, I fail to see the connection to hip-hop. Like I said, the further you get into Vex Ruffin, the more his punk roots show up, although, it isn’t punk rock that he’s playing. This is more like “post-post-punk”, something that could be compared to Bauhaus or Joy Division at their rawest live performances. “Won Day” is a perfect example of this. It’s dissonance really shines and one can’t get enough of this stuff. I’ve only listened to this album once, so far and I love it already. There is definitely nothing happening in the rock scene these days to compare. That is probably where Ruffin’s “untrained” musical sensibility comes to be a boon. He makes sounds that coincide with what’s in his head about what his music should be, in other words, he doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what one is supposed to do with one’s musical ability. “Forget It” is a bit of a departure from some of the previous, darker tunes on Vex Ruffin but is that bad? I think not. It just shows that he has a sense of not doing the same thing over and over again and trying to keep listeners guessing as to what’s coming next. It’s not hokey or a pop-style song – nothing could be further from the truth. “Forget It” is just like the rest of the album – it’s an experiment. A work in progress.
The album ends with a song called “Ruined”, a mellow, chill-out tune that has a twangy guitar sampled from a semi-scratchy LP and sampled so as to vary its tonalities; up and down. Not a big dip, but a quirky sound that is set perfectly to a lounge lizard crooner’s delight. It’s the perfect end for a great album.
Of all the stuff that’s been coming out of the woodwork lately, I definitely have to say that Vex Ruffin is an album that stands up and demands to be paid attention to. From its cartoonish album cover that catches the eye to the songs that all sound delicious. This is another album that will make my short list of the best releases of 2013. –KM