How many albums from 2003 still feel relevant when you go back for a return visit? Your list can’t be that long.
The early 2000s can be viewed as a golden age of pop punk. While Green Day and Blink-182 set the stage in the ‘90s, it was the kids who ravenously ate those albums up who made the music into a movement. There wasn’t a VFW, fire hall or YMCA in the country that avoided the crowds and the bands that were born out of that style of punk rock. Rufio, a speed and riff-driven pop punk band from Rancho Cucamonga, California, is just one of the many acts that cropped up. But it’s been 13 years since MCMLXXXV, their sophomore LP’s release, and, unlike much of the music from back then, nostalgia isn’t the only reason to listen to it. This unsung pop punk opus works in 2016 as well as it did in 2003. And that’s mainly because Rufio didn’t set out just to write punk-infused pop songs, they wrote songs that prove their masterful musicianship, break the sound barrier and lend listeners and earworm or two while they’re at it.
What makes MCMLXXXV so special is the fact that Rufio was made up of four of the most ambitious pop punkers on earth, and they made the most ambitious pop punk album they could conjure up while maintaining a listenability that more progressive musical acts intentionally subvert. There are harmonized guitar riffs that are so complex that, if not for being writing in a major key, you’d think you were listening to a progressive thrash metal band. All of those riffs, by the way, are actually played faster than most thrash bands as well. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Science Fiction” or “We Exist” or “Goodbye.” You’ll see. Match the light speed drumming, the lead instrument style that allow the bass to sit front and center with the guitar work, there’s nothing to dispute the talent and vision that made this record.
It could be said that there are a million musicians out there who can play really fast or write great riffs or dazzle your eardrums. Yes, that’s true. But how many of those musicians are able or willing to match their tremendous talents with hooks and vocal melodies from a soft, young-sounding voice? I would bet the answer is not many. And that’s the X-factor on MCMLXXXV. There are some of the hookiest, most singable choruses herein that will drill into your skull and settle over your brain matter like a warm and fuzzy quilt in winter.
“Countdown,” “Control” and “White Lights” are the best examples of Rufio’s fantastic ear for a hook, but there really isn’t a song on here that’s not capable of accomplishing the exact same goal. Played in the car all on your lonesome, or over earphones in public, you’ll find it difficult to hold back mouthing the lyrics at the very least. At worst you’ll be singing “Don’t believe this science fiction/ Tale of beauty and perfection/ You are more than ordinary/ It’s time to take this blindfold off your eyes.” Okay, they’re not the most profound lyrics on Earth, but by Jove whoever’s listened to this album before is already singing to themselves. And getting people singing, as easy as it may seem, is no small feat.
So, with Rufio’s one-two punch of technically righteous music and super ear-friendly vocals, anyone who says that MCMLXXXV is good for nostalgic purposes only is sorely mistaken. Yes, undoubtedly the album will take you back to easier, more carefree times, but there’s so much more to appreciate here. The fact that adding technical prowess to punk rock is a much more practiced approach to the genre alone suggests this album and bands like Propagandhi and Strung Out have maintained their influence over the past decade and a half. For a fan of technical music, there are some truly astounding bits here that could impress even the toughest critics. For fans of pop music, there are songs on the radio less catchy than some of the tracks on this record. And the fact that the production value still allows the album to hold its own against music recorded today just supports the idea that this thing could have been written and released this morning and it would be totally relevant to the pop punk/punk rock landscape. How many albums from 2003 still feel relevant when you go back for a return visit? Your list can’t be that long.
When it comes to thinking of a golden age of pop punk, the early 2000s were no joke. But the truest test to any album or band is how they the music ages. Rufio’s MCMLXXXV is the best example of a simpler time mixed with technical music. It gets you all misty and it shocks you by just how damn good it is. There have been bands trying to accomplish what Rufio did in 2003 since then. If that’s not a good reason to not only revisit this album, but to acknowledge it still just plain works, I don’t know what is.