New Release Tuesday: Born Ruffians - ‘Birthmarks’

FTWL: The Dudes, Wolf Parade, Hidden Cameras, Fleet Foxes, Peter, Bjorn and John, Paul Simon

I was on a bus heading to Montreal from Ottawa. My train had been cancelled because of a rogue tree branch and it was nothing but grey skies and a mid-April snow to look at for the next three hours while we trundled down the highway. I was bummed. I slipped on headphones, and pressed play on Born RuffiansBirthmarks while sliding into my seat – ready to fall asleep not looking forward to reaching my destination. Then, this Toronto foursome threw a little love in my direction.

Maximizing catchy, poppy hooks that roll around pleasantly and sunny synths that give off so much mellow, Birthmarks is Born Ruffians third album and this one has had fans on the hook for a good while. In a style that Born Ruffians is making very much their own, this record is all about slinky pop rhythms that encourage lazy, long drives and slow sways. Rife with indecision and forbidden loves, tracks like “Cold Pop” and “6-5000” are reminiscent of school dances – or at the very least, reminiscent of the school dances teenagers lived vicariously through while watching Degrassi Junior High alone on Saturday nights.

Since releasing their first EP on Warp Records in 2005, Born Ruffians have had no shortage of positive expectations. Embraced into the Canadian family of small record labels and just-scraping-by label mates, these four Toronto gents have moved their way into the Canadian indie pop scene with shimmery sounds, muted beats and the backdrop to day dreaming.

Birthmarks recalls a bit of the mid-2000s when new indie pop reigned supreme and each new act challenged what could constitute a catchy hook, or a danceable beat. “Rage Flows” and “With Her Shadow”borrow from influences like Paul Simon and Hidden Cameras. Like all good pop albums, Birthmarks isn’t without darkness and the lyrics of improbable love and sadness mellow on top of the blended instrumentation. It moves slowly and casually from one track to the next, without rush or care. A pretty perfect companion to walking home at 4:00 a.m. in the coolness of early summer mornings, or on a solo drive to somewhere or something promising – sometimes an album doesn’t need to stop you in its tracks to leave a mark on you. Born Ruffians achieve that slow release with Birthmarks. It catches you, and reminds you of gentler times but above all it provides that perfect moment when you can close your eyes and just let life wash over you.  

With the album out today on Paper Bag Records, Born Ruffians are hitting the road for their pre-festival album release tour, and while there are no Canadian dates there are plenty of cities close enough to the border to make the drive. Luckily, this Saturday is Record Store Day so if you can wait a few more days you can purchase this new release AND support your local, independent record store. Everyone wins! 

– Jenn Prosser

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