Born Ruffians - Birthmarks

Born Ruffians have grown into themselves; they have found their musical groove and are flourishing because of it.

Label: Yep Roc

Rating: 8

Born Ruffians followed their astounding post-alt-punk debut ‘Red Yellow And Blue’, with the equally vibrant ‘Say It’. All the elements that had made their first album so charming; the gruff unevenness; the hollering vocals and the DIY-production aesthetic, remained for their second effort, albeit in a more developed and far less full-frontal manner. Luke Lalonde and co’s third album sees them hone their craft and evolve their sound even further, doing so with marked aplomb.

From the very first notes of album opener ‘Needles’, it is made plainly clear that ‘Birthmarks’ is unlike anything Born Ruffians have produced thus far. The vocal calmness and delivery that Luke Lalonde musters here is more in keeping with that of Ryan Pecknold’s (of Fleet Foxes), than his own traditionally raw yelping style. This is true throughout the record, with Lalonde opting to reveal just how remarkable his voice really is through carefully sung harmonies rather than coarse wailing. Lyrically, the distinctly laconic reflections that were so aggressively spat out by Lalonde on previous outings remain, only now they are more poignant than before, forcing their way to the fore of every track by virtue of the manner in which the frontman chooses to sing them.

Musically, Born Ruffians have never sounded so complete. Gone are the angst-driven jangly guitars and wild drumming of old, replaced instead by a notably tighter unified sound. Together the band weave tracks that are far more considered, gradual and pensive. Production is notably slick, but thankfully not excessively so; Born Ruffians’ charm has always been in their rough around the edges approach. There is also the refreshingly uncharacteristic presence of keys in several tracks, most explicitly used in one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Permanent Hesitation’; a four minute slice of beautiful simplicity that (only just) narrowly skirts being outright unabashed pop.

It would be too easy to state outright that ‘Birthmarks’ is complete musical-identity re-invention, it is not. Tracks such as ‘Ocean’s Deep’ recall the guitar hooks and vocal delivery of old, only in a far more refined and astute manner. The playfulness towards musical form is still there; ‘Rage Flows’ builds gradually before descending into complete and all encompassing distortion. There just persists an undeniable sense of maturity throughout. Born Ruffians have grown into themselves; they have found their musical groove and are flourishing because of it.

‘Birthmarks’ is quite simply an incredible record. It never falters, and at no point does it feel forced. This is the sound of a band that have not only rediscovered themselves, but have relished in the process of doing so. Whilst not necessarily as endearing as their previous records, ‘Birthmarks’ may in fact be better.