There are three things I require in a band right now:
1. Total commitment to the pop song. None of this thrashy rawk posturing or aimless noodling around in a post-melodic catatonia.*
2. The smarts to shake it up with dissonance, rhythmic change-ups, close harmonies, and Tourette's-like shouts and claps.
3. Canadian citizenship.**
That is why the Born Ruffians have been in my car stereo and my iPod playlists for the past three months. The Toronto band played last night at Chop Suey in a binational lineup that proved, among other things, that the Canadians are a very precise people when it comes to sound checks. The night started with Young Rival, who sounded like they belonged beside a beach fire in California in 1966. Then came the Nurses, the only American act. Much like the Born Ruffians but with mussier hair, the Portland band love to mix it up with hand claps, sweet but complex melodies, and a sharp-voiced tenor at the helm. Their novel ideas were slightly obscured by muddy playing, but I thought they'd sound good on CD.
Third on the bill, Plants and Animals, a Montreal band, made the most of very sparse ideas, beautifully fleshing out minimal melodies with a huge sound. They reminded me of Michael Cera: He's only got one shtick, but it's easy to watch for hours.
The Born Ruffians turned out to look like the three geekiest kids in high school, with a lead singer who could be the love child of Bob Dylan and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Live, the trio pushed the tempos of all their syncopated, off-kilter songs, compressing out some of the nuance but not dropping a lick. They were precise, funny, and the best kind of manic.