There are two famous albums that came in big metal boxes--John Lydon's Public Image Ltd and MF Doom's Operation Doomsday--and surely new Stones Throw signee Vex Ruffin loves them both. Famously brought on board on the strength of a handmade demo--Stones Throw does a great job sussing out awesome weirdos by analyzing their scritch-scratch artwork, as anyone who's seen James Pants' Rhythm Trax album covers knows well--Vex Ruffin immediately became the least-hip-hop dude on a label best known for releases by off-center hip-hop geniuses like Madlib, Dilla and MF Doom. Or at least that's how nervous people on the Internet tell it.
Although the Stones Throw command crew came from hip-hop, it's always been a label powered by collectors of the highest order. And there's friendly precedent for parts and pieces of everything Ruffin does across the Stones Throw discography. "Dusty" as a term for dug-up unknown beats is really just another word for "lo-fi," and Public Image's "Socialist" isn't so far from ESG's "UFO" which is the basis of hundreds of hip-hop songs from 1981 to now. Post-punk and hip-hop were on the same turntables at the same places at the same time, and so Vex (with his sampled Jacque Dutronc drums) fits just fine alongside other Stones Throwers like Dam-Funk, Gary Wilson and the bleaked-out Dave Dub.
Ruffin is playing Echo Park's cornerstone club Part Time Punks, home at various times to Factory Record Nites and Rough Trade records tribute bands, and it's a perfect fit. The Vex vibe is simple, but he does plenty with it, which is probably part of the post-punk instruction manual. Public Image Ltd. is all over this and so are the no-bit drums of Suicide and the ghostly basso of Ian Curtis, though Vex prefers a Lydon-ish howl on his particularly agitated songs. His first release was a postcard with grooves cut into the face, and when you got it in the mail and put it on your turntable, it lurched forth in pursuit of the Fall and Crispy Ambulance. A riff, a moan, a melody that decays away and a sense for the outre--that's made a lot of quality records before and they all had black-and-white album covers. Well, until they came in metal boxes.
Vex Ruffin plays Sun., June 17, at Part Time Punks at The Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.