Canada is all too often overlooked as the United States’ hat. Nobody seems to see anything significant in Canada, but if you listen closely, you’ll realize pretty quickly that a large amount of otherwise fairly notable bands have their roots in that country to the North (Rush, Bedouin Soundclash, and Japandroids for starters). Unfortunately, much like their country, Canadian band, Born Ruffians, have gone pretty unnoticed through the years. They’re a great little group, consisting of four young men with some serious talent. I remember the first time I had listened to the bands first album (at least their first as Born Ruffians), Red, Yellow & Blue, my mind was blown. “Where has this band been all my life? How aren’t they huge?” Now this review isn’t about Red, Yellow & Blue but rather their latest album, Birthmarks. You would think that five years would be enough time to drum up quite a few fans, but much to my surprise, it hasn’t seemed to happen. If for some reason you’re not already a fan, let me spare you a couple of paragraphs, just go listen to the album, it’s worth it. But if you’re a long time fan looking for a bit of a preview, or perhaps just a skeptic, keep reading.
When Birthmarks first started, I was a bit thrown off. Born Ruffians seemed a lot calmer than I was used to. A sound reminiscent of Fleet Foxes rang through my headphones, and I was wondering if the band decided to take a new approach. Fifty seconds passed however, and Born Ruffians began to take on their charmingly poppy sound. Simple guitar and bass melodies coupled with a minimalistic drum beat and some keyboard-magic create the foundation for each song but it’s important to give credit where credit is due. One of the most noticeable qualities of Born Ruffians is Luke Lalonde’s voice. We’re not talking some Frank Sinatra, the guy’s voice is good, but not that good –whatever, we’re getting away from the point. Lalonde is unique, and the first track of Birthmarks, “Needle” was a good reminder. It had been a while since I listened to Born Ruffians, and as that fifty second mark I mentioned went by, Lalonde came out in full force. To be honest, if a goat could sing in a indie rock band, I’m pretty sure their name would be Luke Lalonde (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). He just has this certain something that makes the otherwise instrumental minimalism perfectly okay, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. Nobody in Born Ruffians is slacking, and it shows for sure.
The seventh track, “With Her Shadow,” really caught my attention for it’s unusual tranquility (once again). When I think Born Ruffians, I kind of imaging a speed up video of flowers blooming and people dancing –it just seems to fit. It’s nice to see the band calm down a bit. It shows a side of the Canadian group that you wouldn’t expect immediately. Aside from that, “With Her Shadow,” shows just how far some simple sounds can really build a song. Throughout the song, acoustic guitars and drums slip their way in, and build a layer of sound that creates a unique experience. It’s kind of like a dash of salt and pepper, just a little bit does so much more than just dumping it on.
Overall, if memory serves correctly, I do however remember every instrument having a far more prominent existence in Born Ruffians’ past albums. While nobody’s slacking, it’s a bit absent feeling to know what the band is capable of and then to hear what happened here. The third track, “Ocean’s Deep,” sort of makes me eat my words however. I can’t say much about it, it’s a good song, and there’s a nice little guitar riff/solo that works it’s way in at one point, but it still doesn’t seem to make up for how lacking the rest of the album is. For some reason, something always seems to be missing. Looking back to Red, Yellow & Blue again, I wonder what’s changed. “Barnacle Goose” was such a more hectic song. The bass, drums, and guitar fired through the speakers like some machine gun rattling off, and then things smoothed out and blah blah blah god damn it was just lovely. This time around, Born Ruffians left a lot of that out. Birthmarks is wonderfully composed, but horribly simplistic, and maybe a tad uncharacteristic for Born Ruffians.
At the start of this review I suggested that you should only read this if you absolutely felt you needed to, that the album is that good, and my opinion hasn’t changed. I don’t think there’s an actually bad part about Born Ruffians latest creation, but I wonder if it’s their worst out. I kind of left the middlechild out of this review, that being their second album, Say It. Why? To be blunt, I listened to it once? Twice? It was released two years after Red, Yellow & Blue, and at the time I still couldn’t get over how good their first was. So where does Birthmarksstand? Probably tied for second place with Say It. Both albums are good in their own Born Ruffians way, but the band has set high standards for themselves.
P.S.Once again, how the hell isn’t this band famous yet? They’re easily one of my favorites, they should be one of your favorites too.