Thursday, March 4th 2010
Reviews: Turin Brakes
With their fifth full length studio album, UK folk rock duo Turin Brakes have proven themselves to be a truly exceptional band, handsomely rewarding fans like us who have been following them since discovering their promising 2001 debut.
Outbursts opens with Sea Change. In case you missed it when we shared it last month, it’s absolutely flawless, perhaps their best composition since Average Man from their second album. Folk songs tend to narrate very linear stories, so often that it’s cited as a definitive nature of the entire genre. However, Sea Change avoids this well-worn path that can sometimes lead to a pigeonhole where little to nothing is left to imagination, or more specifically, personal relevance. Following in the spiritual footsteps of When The Levee Breaks more than, say, Highway 61 Revisited, it’s a song about a universal concept: Your back against the wall. In the first verse, you stand among the entire world’s population. As an unspecified inevitability closes in, the crowd thins and thins with each verse until it’s just you. With each cycle, the music grows larger, from a light current of silky guitars to a tsunami of orchestral strings and layered percussion.
Sea Change promises one thing on behalf of the listener, and of the album: Things will be different. Things must be different. A step forward will be taken, no matter the cost. It’s pure, unadulterated inspiration, directly from the artists’ heart to yours. It’s no less than everything music should be.
Mirror follows, pulling you in with a sidewinding finger-picked eight-16th-note guitar hook (acoustic, of course), but closing the deal with a poignant vocal delivery by Olly Knights that gives Neil Finn a run for his money.
Apocolips is the other song we shared recently, and in case you skipped that one too (what, are you new here?), it’s another outstanding cut. The intricate dual guitar work and harmonies bring to mind Gerry Beckley & Dewey Bunnell’s chemistry in America, which is barely less daring than comparing the opening track to When The Levee Breaks, yet no less deserved.
While not a single track on Outbursts feels like filler, it’s always nice to be blown away by a new cut when a few good previews put a new album into your hands. Never Stops is a third track on par with Sea Change and Apocolips, and it’s not alone; Radio Silence is a daring (though by no means incongruous) trip through the desert (quite the hike from London), with subtly phase shifted, meandering guitar phrases. In another life, it could have been a Mark Lanegan song. The music drops out towards the end, to silence for a moment, before a thundering bridge stomps in, trailed by a squealing electric guitar, sustaining into the sunset.
Never Stops is at once upbeat and haunting in exactly the same way some of Cat Stevens’ best work was. Particularly chilling is the line: Trouble, don’t you knock upon this door, that leads into the chorus. Often, with Turin Brakes, it’s not just about the words, or the music, but how they play together to establish a vision for the listener the way a classic novel might. Never Stops is a perfect example of this. But it’s far from the only selling point of Outbursts.
Rocket Song is a love song of sorts, in that it’s a song about love… A love that’s a bottle rocket, “bound for the stars…” yet “stuck between the bars.” It begins rather conventionally with cliché poetry over major chords, yet repeatedly explodes into vibrant, layered choruses. And while songs such as Rocket Song and The Invitation exemplify this band’s most impressive gift for painting rich musical landscapes for the consistently relatable lyrics to inhabit, the stripped down quiet sections in between are hardly ineffective. The ode to disappointment The Letting Down for example, features the lightest of guitar strumming, but beautifully layered vocals delivering, ever so slowly, gut-jabbing lines such as Like a broken scarecrow / Like a punchline you already know, and You’re a broken halo / You’re a 747 / coming in too slow… The closing title track is another example of the music knowing when to take a backseat, a carefully paced, deferential love letter sung by Knights alone.
Now all of that constitutes a fairly large heap of praise and more than a few bold name-drops, but this is a thoroughly exceptional album from a band that has refined their art over 10 years of touring, recording, experience and growth. This isn’t Echo Park’s band of the month here, and we’re not Pitchfork. Turin Brakes have put the work in, and Outbursts is their reward. A reward we’re privileged to share.
Since we’ve already posted two tracks from Outbursts, for sampling purposes, we’re going to try something a little different. Here’s a rare deep cut from our library, their amazing cover of The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Breaking The Girl, from their Red Moon EP:
Because there ain’t nothing weird about sharing good music.