It’s instructive when looking on retail sites to see the ‘people who bought Brakes have also bought this’ list. The Long Blondes, The Magic Numbers, The Ordinary Boys, Damien Rice – elements of all appear on this weird and wonderful record called The Beatific Visions, but it’s far from a contrived attempt to cover all bases. But then for a quartet with ex-members of British Sea Power and The Electric Soft Parade, perhaps it’s not too much of a surprise. Songwriting is clearly a pleasure for them, with quirky lyrics, decent tunes and no-frills production.
Between tracks it’s difficult to remember you’re listening to the same band. When a song like Porcupine & Pineapple explodes from the speakers, spitting anti-war venom before exiting stage left in just 63 seconds, punk sensibilities are to the fore. Contrast that with the epic, lovelorn No Return, a string-drenched song that tugs at the heartstrings, pondering whether to leave or stay.
There’s a quaintness about much of the Brakes songwriting, occasionally leaning towards Belle and Sebastian. Recording the album in Nashville seems to have lent the album an open-air feel. Margherita has an easy going country charm, while Mobile Communication has a gentle resignation. That damned reception’s gone again…
Ties to the homeland remain, with endearingly English lyrics that speak in Hold Me In The River of “follow my leader” and “skip to the lou”, while the bonkers Spring Chicken tries its luck with a few do-ci-dos.
Vocalist Eamon Hamilton seems to be a man of several personas, and a tender love moment on Isabel should never be taken for granted, as he’ll be more than ready to punch out a spiky guitar riff and strangled yelp of a vocal in the next minute. His song structures are pleasingly random and err on the brief side, the whole album over in just under half an hour.
As No Return unwinds; however, you get the sense the band is revelling in the timelessness of it all, as if they know there’s no time limit. It complements the short, frenetic bursts extremely well.
The album is an intriguing mixture of moods and styles, a piece of work that despite its brevity has to be lived for a good many listens. Then the overall structure becomes clearer, a kind of mini-concept record that will amuse, puzzle, uplift and even irritate in equal measure, displaying a refreshing alternative to conventional ideas.