Birthmark is the solo project of Nate Kinsella, who’s been releasing music under the moniker since 2007. You may recognize him from acts such as Joan of Arc and American Football, but make no mistake; How You Look When You’re Falling Down is the furthest thing from an emo revival. Instead, it’s a record with an undoubtedly sunny disposition and an almost naïve innocence. By way of the track titles, it’s evident that the awkward, deer-in-the-headlights clumsiness that goes hand in hand with being young has been chosen as a running theme. Kinsella is able to invoke the child within him and encourages the listener to do the same.
The kickoff track “Find Yourself” is deceptively uncomplicated – deep vocals are spread out over the sound of horns and a streaking violin. The elementary song structure and apparent lack of a dramatic story would be enough to bore most people right off the bat. However, it’s also enough to prompt its audience to take a closer listen, upon which they’d realize that the song’s candor and lack of pretentiousness is precisely what makes it so accessible. Birthmark isn’t trying to keep you out with a wall of harsh feedback or barely-decipherable poetic metaphors. Instead, this music wants to invite you in from the very beginning and have you singing along without any hint of embarrassment.
From there we move into the title track, with lines such as “I try not to notice when your body is showing” revealing a sort of charming modesty. It’s as if these songs are written from the perspective of a child just beginning to learn about the world around him. The background instrumentals clink together in harmony, imbuing the song with a deep sense of simplicity. There’s an element of making it up as you go along on this record, which means there’s less room for strict technique and more room for free-flowing joy. “Sounds Can Be So Alarming” is the longest track, clocking in at just about nine minutes. It features Kinsella’s baritone vocals and what sounds like a xylophone, making it even easier to believe in the uninhibited spontaneity of it all.
For all this talk of simple pleasures and straightforward musicianship, How You Look When You’re Falling Down veers into dangerously cheesy territory on “Suit of Armor”. The refrain “Crooked don’t fit right” is reminiscent of a kid teaching himself the concept of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and in a similar fashion this song fails to make it work. In contrast to “Hurry, Hurry, Hurry”, the most mature-sounding song out of the eight, Kinsella’s vocals are strained and the strings they’re accompanied by do little to help. While at the start listeners were welcomed in with genuine enthusiasm, toward the end it’s this unmasked playfulness that nearly becomes the album’s downfall.