Born Ruffians, ‘Birthmark’ – Album Review
Born Ruffians spent three years making 'Birthmark,' and well, it sounds like it. Part of the reason behind this delay may have been a reaction to the scathing review Pitchfork gave their last effort, 'Say It. The album was called "rushed" and "amateurish," and as is the hope with critical reviews -- or at least what the hope should be -- the Canadian four-piece may have taken the notes to heart and taken their time to ensure that 'Birthmark' had its kinks worked out.
If so, it was a commendable move, but one that resulted in Born Ruffians being all but forgotten in the musical landscape. Five years have passed since they released their slightly successful debut, 'Red, Yellow & Blue,' and that's far too long to imagine there was much anticipation for this album, except maybe on the parts of diehard fans and and local devotees. And if anyone was waiting patiently for a better followup to 'Red, Yellow, & Blue' than 'Say It,' the group's sophomore album, they're probably happy with 'Birthmark.' And if they are, they're likely blissfully unaware of any music from the past half-decade, as Born Ruffians literally sound like they've been sitting on this album for those three years since they started it.
This dated aesthetic is present from the outset, as Luke Lalonde's vocals cast 'Needle' as familiar to the point it's almost chained down. Confusing matters is his donning of a strange accent that effectively makes him sound like an Elvish Avey Tare. Lalonde lets the audience know he is trying, fighting to not just hit the hard notes, but also to determine what exactly is going to come out of his mouth next. And this tic dominates the album, as the backing instrumentation is mostly understated and incidental, leaving just the vocals behind.
Melodically, Born Ruffians make subtle nods to contemporary influences, referencing Frightened Rabbit on 'So Slow,' Foster the People on 'Two Soaked to Break' and Islands on 'Ocean's Deep,' as well as fellow post-'Merriweather Post Pavilion' AnCo-pop purveyors like Miniature Tigers and Here We Go Magic. The songs are well crafted and catchy, but given their lack of originality, their attributes quickly become undetectable.
'Birthmark' manages to illicit such opposing emotions that its best song is also its most obnoxious. 'Permanent Hesitation' may be slick, but it's perfectly slick and seems destined for attention in some manner. It's so obviously a hit that within one listen, you can recognize its potential, reject it, kinda get used to it and get sick of it. That's how the world is now, moving so fast that a three-year absence can sound like a generation, and Born Ruffians sound like the band that time forgot. The result is a sonic time capsule from a few years back, and it's sadly irrelevant.