Truth be told, I gave up on Born Ruffians a few years back. After soaking up the untapped, scrappy potential of Red, Yellow & Blue I was left flat by Say It.
The carefree, seemingly spontaneous riffs that drove recklessly from the amps on their debut were a product on youth and the perceived immortality of youth. Two years later when I heard them still peeling out and running stop lights, I felt like shaking my fist and yelling “slow the fuck down.” #getoffmylawn
As a result, I felt like Birthmarks represented a crossroads for the band and their fans. There are too many bands playing similar fuzzed out chords and singing about girls they lust after to give bands too many repeat listens. Born Ruffians needed to focus their sound instead of spraying riffs like Pollack inspired painters splashed colors on a canvas.
From the opening minutes, you hear that much needed change in effect. Birthmarks is a more cohesive effort in terms of writing and vision and certainly more focused. The band took more ownership of the process, giving each instrument a clear voice and the chance to be heard. When the band settles into their best pacing - taut grooves with a surprising amount of room to run - Birthmarks is a treat, a record that wrestles with the odd reality of watching your friends grow up and get “real jobs” while you need to stay young, dedicated and creatively inspired.
There is still some familiarity in the sounds they offer, but instead of sounding like most young bands trying to find a sound that sticks, Born Ruffians now sound like a band ready to launch a career bigger than blog buzz. These are bigger songs with more accessible touch points. “Golden Promises” is grandiose and fully realized vision. “With Her Shadow” benefits from a Westernized take on afrobeat (make no mistake, this song is catchy as hell), and you can’t help but think that this record is Born Ruffians going to get air time on Canada’s most trusted, government funded entities.
Critics will probably point out this type of shift isn’t new - bands often try writing a “Fleet Foxes” or “Vampire Weekend” or “cool influence X” song - but Born Ruffians has the chops and charisma to keep the listen enjoyable and fresh. There are some points that derail the listen; ironically, I get lost is when the band slows down and creates icy sound scapes on “So Slow” and a couple of songs miss the mark, but Birthmarks reveals a subtlety I didn’t expect from this Ontario outfit.
Most importantly, Born Ruffians have refreshed their story. Birthmarks probably won’t be remembered as the band’s high water mark, but it will be viewed as a crucial turning point that found the young band growing up and starting to write solid pop songs.