Vex Ruffin

Vex Ruffin

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Because it's generally so guileless in its presentation, it's easy to think of punk rock in terms of its most obvious qualities. With his layers of uneven synths and underwater vocals over slightly broken 303 beats, Vex Ruffin's sound hardly seems to match up with the punk checklist of dissatisfied young people making elemental and energetic music about how dissatisfied they are. Taking a step back, however, it becomes clear that the spirit of punk, that desire to get something -- anything -- out there, is alive and well on Ruffin's self-titled, full-length debut for Stones Throw. Although listeners won't find any pounding drums or three-chord guitar riffs here, what they will find is an unfussy sensibility that feels out of time in an era where digital production makes perfection an easily attainable goal. From the opening moments of the first track, "Living for the Future," Vex Ruffin's rumbling synth lines and mantra-like vocals begin to evoke the feel of proto-punk legends Suicide, a trend that continues throughout the album as Ruffin continually plays with repetition, rhythm, and noise. Where Suicide's music always felt designed to back the listener into a corner and needle them until it found precisely what made them uncomfortable, Vex Ruffin's approach is more blissed-out and relaxed, creating a sonic crash pad where listeners can come in and lounge about without worrying about anyone getting in their face. What's most interesting about the album, however, is the way it examines punk and no-wave through the lens of hip-hop production, with its fractured rhythms and grimy sounds owing almost as much to New York in the '70s as they do to experimental beatmakers like J Dilla and Madlib. This makes for an album that not only isn't worried about its failings, but probably doesn't see them as failings at all, imbuing Vex Ruffin's sound with a brashness that might be mistaken for synth pop, but has the unmistakable spirit of punk running through its veins.

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