Born Ruffians released their debut album Red, Yellow & Blue on Warp Records in 2008. Their unlikely sophomore album Say It failed to reach the indie rock anthem status their debut album had, with the quite essential "Hummingbird". Birthmarks is being released on local Canadian record label Paper Bag Records, and not Warp. The glorified status that Warp brings is often under looked, with Born Ruffians capitalising from Warp, a record known and appreciated by electronic audiences. The indie rock, independent status and localness of Paper Bag Records suits the Canadian quartet.
Lead single "Needle" was released in February; the whistling and reluctant song was Born Ruffians return to the soft scene they ditched for indie rock, NME compilations in 2006. They sing: "I belong to no one, a song without an album," on "Needle", a start-up of lyricism with literal meanings. The band known for their fast-paced songs standout when the tempo is slowed down, the bass becomes an accompaniment instrument and the reverberation takes over as the focus. It's what Birthmarks is all about. It's a band progressing, developing and taking what they already know to give something new. A change of label, a change of audience and a change of direction is what needed post-2010 was. The Canadians have certainly taken this, as second track "6-5000" reveals. In name, a reference to the oldest telephone number in New York City, in song, a smooth and reverb heavy follow-up to "Needle".
It's the soft and lacklustre material on Birthmarks that ultimately decides its fate. With such past material as "Retard Canard" and "Little Garçon", it's a surprise that Born Ruffians have almost pulled the plug. The electric guitar riff madness has been replaced by reflecting vocal hooks delivered by Luke Lalonde. Percussion has certainly improved, as has the atmosphere these tracks carry. Tracks such as "Dancing On the Edge of Our Graves" and "With Her Shadow" are good examples of this. It's the middle passage that brings Birthmarks down. "Cold Pop" does little, while "Golden Promises" starts and ends slow, with Lalonde's hovering.
From "Ocean's Deep", the listener can take more than the indie pop, Fang Island like material of the opening two tracks. It's a faster, more alternative track with a lovely vocal hook on the chorus. There's no denying Lalonde has a good singing voice and this is the track that takes Born Ruffians out of the Warp bracket and into a sort of North American alternative rock that can be considered for shopping in Sears, or John Lewis if you're in the UK. At times, the lyrics on Birthmarks straight up sound and read cheesy. Lalonde sings: "I am just a lotus and you are a vine," on the fourth track "Permanent Hesitation". The first 50 seconds are quite irrelevant and unnecessary to the track, as the following rhythm guitar takes control, however the original vocal cheesiness and pop-like structure returns.
On far too many occasions, Born Ruffians sound commercial. For instance with the archetypal titled "Cold Pop", where instead of using the three and a half minutes to fulfil and interesting track, they decide to waste with dodgy structures that fail to grasp attentions and ultimately lead in no direction. "Rage Flows" is another one of these tracks where the quartet fail to live up to expectation. "So Slow" also follows suit. There's a massive difference between the lovely direction of the album opener and these mediocre mid album tracks.
Birthmarks could have been much better. Born Ruffians are lacking the basics, and they're missed. The instrumentals seem to be lacking a personal touch; it's just a straight forward ride without any surprises or noise. "Needle" is the highlight of the album, and that's the first track. After that Birthmarks becomes something of a hindrance from the origins of Born Ruffians. It's not the worst record they could have made - it's the direction they needed to take. Without a fulfilled track to track structure, their third album falls underneath itself. It doesn't excite or relax, it fills a void, and a void that Warp won't miss if Born Ruffians continue down this path.