Born Ruffians Birthmarks

Born Ruffians Birthmarks
8
If there were such a thing as an award for "most improved band" in music, Born Ruffians would be worth betting on. While their last album, 2010's Say It, wasn't exactly the equivalent of a season batting around .200 or tossing 20-plus interceptions, it failed to turn heads and keep the momentum of their well-received debut going. For their third act, the Toronto, ON four-piece retreated to a farmhouse for some male bonding, then headed into a studio with producer Roger Leavens. The extra time and effort put into Birthmarks has resulted not just in the band's best album, but one that demonstrates they've reached next-level status. Leaving behind the minimal, twitchy indie-pop, the guys have upgraded to a wider range of ideas less reliant on the guitars/bass/drums set-up, bolstered by a slick studio sound. The songs are bursting and cultivated; it's as if they realized urgency was no longer their ally. Single "Needle" is their best song to date; it's a confessional that trembles with vulnerability, then pulls it in to pop with an effective beat and chorus. "Oceans Deep" has the immediacy and feel-good groove of a Doug & the Slugs tune, while "Cold Pop" charges with Luke Lalonde's oral sex allegory, yet flutters with beatific guitar strums that mask its cheekiness. The second half, however, shows another side. "Rage Flows" erupts into static-drenched chaos, "Dancing on the Edge of Our Graves" is a mature, radio-friendly tune wrapped in strings and "So Slow" is a nebulous, ebb-and-flow arrangement swimming in ambient textures that is by far the most radical thing they've done. Sure, Birthmarks might throw off some, maybe even lose them, but the gamble has paid off, and will undoubtedly result in producing more new fans, as well as reassuring old ones. (Paper Bag)