words by tom spooner
Ruff Buff is the debut album from The Get Money Squad, a project by the Buffalo duo of Quinton Brock and Jon Bap. Despite their tender years, both Brock and Bap have released impressively idiosyncratic takes on soul, R&B, rap and electronica – Bap as a solo artist and Brock most notably as one half of Network.
The Get Money Squad’s slacker alt-rock comes as something of a surprise, being a marked departure from their usual creative furrows. Thankfully it’s underpinned with the same intrepid enthusiasm to explore new sonic textures and rhythms, and defy the limitations of genre.
Drawing on the lineage of stoned indie-rock that stretches from Pavement through to Mac DeMarco and beyond, Ruff Buff is ramshackle and charming in all the right measures. There’s a looseness of execution throughout, but the melodies and guitar hooks often shine through.
Taken as a whole, it’s an evocative work that captures the heady exuberance of youth. Ruff Buff taps into that unique sense of freedom and optimism, when it was possible to own the summers and all the intoxicating sweetness they contained. It’s a time long before the rigmarole of the work-sleep-rent routine was stamped indelibly on our lives; when we smoked weed all day without worrying that it would make us unproductive or prove terminal to ‘serious’ relationships. The only things that really mattered back then were music, friends, and trying to catch those first sparks of romance that flitted around the boundaries between lust and love.
It’s fitting then that Youth is a standout track. Dealing with a communication breakdown, it’s a treacly ketamine wade through Pavementesque motifs. Amongst the whistles and guitar solos, Brock stretches out his words to hit playful rhymes in a way that’s hard not to delight in. Another highlight is June666 – its warm phasered guitar and catchy chorus see the duo at their laidback melodic best.
There’s evidence on Ruff Buff that Brock and Bap may be looking beyond their own experiences of youth and to those of the past as they pastiche 1950s doo wop on Cupid and turn to the dreams of stardom that echo in the 1970s’ college corridors on Not Far. The latter’s spoken word intro recalls Nada Surf’s own cataloguing of collegiate anxiety, Popular.
Classic teenage themes of love lost and found make frequent appearances. On Back Again broken hearts fall into the same category as snapping the arm off your favourite transformer or accidentally ripping the cover of a rare comic – a bittersweet distance from the rawness of real pain. The Cul De Sac is all about a fledgling romance, delivered with vocal chirrups and an intriguingly fractured chorus. Like most tracks on Ruff Buff it threatens to descend into stoned laughter and it’s as if the previous two minutes were a rare triumph over giggles, a capturing of a moment against the odds.
The effects-heavy guitar sound and lo-fi production on Ruff Buff is reminiscent of the early releases of defunct British band Let’s Wrestle. You can hear it most on tracks like Pillow Talk with its woozy falsetto and big harmonies. Even Brock’s vocals share an affinity with those of Wesley Patrick Gonzalez; how he delivers each word with palpable relish, deliberate yet wholly lackadaisical.
There are moments on Ruff Buff where the hooks or melodies fail to lift songs much above pastiche. New Hot Fire for one is straight-up garage rock, fuzzy and frantic, offering little. Having said that, this isn’t high art and is not supposed to be critiqued as such. It’s an album that needs to be played loud in a park with friends, a frisbee and a crate of beer, on a road trip where the tarmac stretches out endlessly, or on a beach as the sun melts into the horizon. Ruff Buff is an evocative rush through the hazy, myriad joys of youth. Whether you’re living it or nostalgic for it, it’s something to savour.