It seems to be said a lot, but the parameters of alt-rock moving ever outward to allow newer, more inventive bands an opportunity to shine feels imperative in the rise of a band like Birthmarks. They haven’t felt the same benefits as many of their contemporaries, granted, but they’ve displayed the sort of creative drive through a number of well-received singles that gives them every opportunity to reach those same heights, at the very least. And when their sound is so widely distanced from what would’ve been considered the norm within alt-rock not even a decade ago, bringing in elements of trip-hop and brooding electronica and industrial touches into an expansive rock baseline, it’s all adhering to a notion that’s become well-worn at this point, but is no less relevant.
Going even further down that path, there’s a lot to commend about a sound that’s as proudly inhospitable to some as Birthmarks’ is, and when there’s really nothing about it that’s been toned down or micromanaged to court the wider market, …And Then The Rain Stops easily holds its own as a unique and pretty captivating listen. On the other side, there’s the usual rough edges endemic of debut albums of this stripe, and a sound that could do with some fleshing out, but none of that is an exclusive criticism of Birthmarks; if anything, their headfirst dive into this sound does a lot for them right off the bat, and results that aren’t unfailingly stable but do a lot positively already are a testament to how well that’s paid off.
It’s probably easiest to start with the overall sound in that regard, mostly because it’s what Birthmarks are putting right to the fore and allowing to drive this album. It’s also clearly what they’ve put the most thought into as well, with a lot of hushed dynamics, rippling guitars and firmer basslines anchoring a song like Breathe and its deliberately minor exection. Minimalism plays a big part in where …And Then The Rain Stopped casts its sonic net, as the negative space is allowed to billow and create a more tangibly bleak atmosphere that a juddering electronic pulse on tracks like Midnight Blue and Charcoal helps to augment. It’s not quite unsettling, but there’s an emptiness and almost a loneliness to what …And Then The Rain Stopped does that almost makes criticising a lack of real punch feel almost pointless. Even then that’s not exactly true on moments like the grinding, industrial stomp of Eclipse (Empty Shell), but where the likes of How Do You Rule Me or Wax can maybe come across as a bit inconsequential on their own, especially with how willowy and quiet Daniel Cross’ vocals can be, but they definitely thrive as a more satisfying whole, even as the main thrill comes from how the soundscapes build and contort rather than anything particularly hook-driven.
Really though, that feels like the best approach for Birthmarks to take, particularly on an album like this. So much of the sonic bleakness and emptiness feels woven into more abstract themes of love, sex, loss and mental decay, and even if it can lack a bit of the directness that, honestly, this album probably would’ve benefited from, the command of atmosphere is still truly impressive, especially when it’s as consistent as this. Cross especially serves as great mouthpiece in that regard, swooping through these tracks with shaken, openly vulnerable deliveries that easily land on a conveyance of haunted emptiness, and that’s a powerful feeling for as long as he can keep it up. The disconnect is a little wider when the electronic pulses are given a heavier turn, but on the whole, …And Then The Rain Stopped sees Birthmarks hit a fairly unbroken stride on their first go.
That feels like the end product of a level of confidence that really shouldn’t go unnoticed. This is an album that feels like its own beast, with distinct influences but never to the degree of throwing them in wholesale, and that’s what puts Birthmarks over the edge from a promising new band to one that really has a shot of going far. The speed at which they’re moving forward is considerable, as they continue to do their own and explore avenues and directions that are emphatically their own. It gives …And Then The Rain Stopped a real boost, as an album with a lot of identifiable character that can certainly take risks and have them pay off, and when doing that to such an extent can still feel rather like a rarity, doing that well is always going to leave a good impression.
For fans of: Young Legionnaire, Mojo Fury, Aereogramme
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘…And Then The Rain Stopped’ by Birthmarks is released on 27th March.