Minimalistic and simplistic don’t even begin to describe Vex Ruffin.
All things considered, Vex Ruffin belongs on Stones Throw. Yes, it seems strange for a punk act to be on one of the most influential independent hip-hop labels. But let’s not forget how broad Stones Throw’s roster really is. The only criterion for Stones Throw is whether or not Peanut Butter Wolf likes your sound. Label head Peanut Butter Wolf has accumulated some of the most experimental, strange, and forward thinking artists for his roster. Artists who have changed the course of hip-hop have come from this label and it’s no small feat to have Peanut Butter Wolf pick you up from a mailed in demo, so the story goes for Vex Ruffin. To his credit, Vex Ruffin is the only one so far. It’s easy to see how he fits onto the roster with his unique outlook on punk rooted in a background of hip-hop.
But really, there’s nothing about Vex Ruffin that’s groundbreaking or extraordinary. His take on punk is unique and interesting nonetheless, but nothing eye-popping. His hip-hop knowledge helps shape his pragmatic approach in creating his sound. Vex Ruffin knows what can work for him and what’s venturing outside his own limits. His use of continuous loops for the drums and bass lines has an anemic effect, but it’s an effect that really helps him establish his atmosphere. He can put a dance beat behind a track, “Release” and “I Can’t Seem to Find It”, while still exhibiting a bleak existence. His off-kilter and lo-fi production fills in the gaps between his sparse and simple instrumentation. Going through the album, a lot of the little distorted things catch your ear over the larger elements. While these minor effects, cautiously used, keep you interested as a listener, it also serves to keep the soundscape from being too empty to the point where it would be beyond endurance. Considering that Same Thing Tomorrow, a cassette only release, clocks in at a compact 30:31, the line between seems to be really fine.
The most interesting part of Vex Ruffin’s dark, slightly eerie, minimalistic aesthetic is how he uses repetition to put you into his world. His bass lines and drums define the work driving each song forward. The tracks move on their own pace; a pace that is dictated by Vex Ruffin. The more you listen to the album, the more it becomes clear that he’s pushing a Groundhog Day-like experience. While this helps the theoretical impact of the work from a more focused context, the more immediate listening experience is as confusing to me as it was for Bill Murray’s character walking around Punxsutawney. You don’t enjoy it as much until you recognize the pattern. It helps that he never stops to look back because there’s no reason to, as everything is the same as his lyrics express.
Thematically and lyrically, he comes from the same place that his forefathers have come from, figuratively and literally. Vex Ruffin is frustrated, bored, and downright tired of the banalities of the everyday grind of suburban life. It’s easy to characterize Vex Ruffin’s vocal delivery to be similar to those of his influences, alternative bands with a darker tone. His monotone, cold, and abandoned voice is reminiscent of Ian Curtis. Though his sound, in principle, is attached to both L.A. hardcore punk and a handful of prominent alternative bands, he’s unable to find the point they intersect and work together to make something that is enjoyable, engaging, and deep.
Same Thing Tomorrow is short, to the point, and aesthetically unadulterated. There certainly isn’t a lot to his music from a compositional standpoint, but his aesthetic is well cultivated and presents an interesting image of Vex Ruffin. The sound Vex Ruffin wants to produce is a mix of those he idolizes, inspired by the Cure, Joy Division, and everything in between, all through a punk lens. If anything can be said about Vex Ruffin’s music, it’s that he knows what he wants to take from his influences. Too bad; it doesn’t translate to a pleasurable listening experience.