Born Ruffians’ sophomore outing, 2010′s Say It, is an album of rough edges and blurred intentions. But it wasn’t an intentional aesthetic: The Canadian indie-rock trio ran out of funding half-way through the recording process, leaving behind a pile of stark grooves and meandering, half-finished hooks. Birthmarks, the band’s highly crafted follow-up, is an effusive U-turn: radiating confidence and chemistry where Say It so often sagged.
“Needle” opens with a startling statement of purpose: Gleaming choral harmonies give way to a springy bass/kick-drum pulse, as frontman Luke Lalonde wraps his chipper croon over shards of staccato guitar. Instead of relying on clumsy lyrical metaphors, as they often did on Say It (see: the awkward puns of “Sole Brother”), Lalonde’s words now pack an emotional sting: “I am just a no one/ I’m the same as everyone,” he sings, the band charging to a dizzy crescendo, “Spinning underneath the sun, head between my knees.” That mix of sonic quirkiness and lyrical depth is contagious, spreading to the space-funk pulses of “Permanent Hesitation” (a heartbreaking tale of romantic distance) and the glossy “Dancing on the Edge of Our Graves,” which celebrates mortality via soulful pop grandeur. It’s difficult to call Birthmarks the “best” Born Ruffians album — they sound like a brand new band.