Featuring members of British Sea Power, Electric Soft Parade and The Tenderfoot, Brakes are a kind of halfway home for eccentric British guitar bands. Formed in 2004 as another side-project for each of the four band members to juggle, they’ve since gone on to release two critically acclaimed albums (2005’s Give Blood and 2006’s The Beatific Visions) and had a song feature on, of all things, Ugly Betty (the brilliant All Night Disco Party).
Lead by Eamon Hamilton’s croaky, yelping vocals, Brakes can be an acquired taste. Songs tend to shift and mutate, various musical genres emerge and then disappear leaving the listener uncertain and moreover a little impatient. All Night Disco Party aside, their debut was hampered by a lack of focus and sounds now very much like an album by a side-project and not the main act. Luckily, as a large majority of Touchdown testifies, when the songs are good enough the musical folly can work for rather then against them.
Continuing where the more rounded The Beatific Visions left off, Touchdown opens with the slow-burning Two Shocks. Apparently written whilst Hamilton was off his face on, er, Sudafed, it features lyrics as deep as “I’ll pop your popcorn” and “well you’ll never get to heaven if the wind don’t blow”. Musically, it chugs along before exploding into a typically fraught rush of guitars and drums. The frantic pace continues on Red Rag and Hey Hey, both songs barely making the two-minute mark. The latter is especially good, the crisp guitar riffs and stop-start tempo recalling Freakin’ Out by Graham Coxon.
It doesn’t all whiz by in a blur however. Worry About It Later is a gorgeous country-tinged shuffle, Hamilton’s vocal matching the sweet musical backdrop, whilst the self-explanatory Leaving England closes the album on a wistful note, Hamilton’s soft vocals swamped in the end by clattering percussion and guitar feedback. Do You Feel The Same, meanwhile, was written as the Lehman Brothers bank collapsed, imminent financial ruin juxtaposed with trying to keep a relationship alive. It’s reflective of a much more confident and purposeful band, one that feels equally as happy producing the playful (and slightly irritating) Don’t Take Me To Space (Man) as it does the Pixies-esque Crush On You.
Touchdown is a concise, flab-free 35 minutes of music made by a band, which despite their collective CVs, probably wouldn’t be picked out of a line-up. With no real image to speak of and with little interest from the popular music press there’s more chance of Lady Gaga becoming a Librarian then there is of Brakes crashing in at number one, but they remain one of those bands that are consistently producing good, solid albums. It may not be enough for some bands but you get the impression Brakes are more then happy to remain on the periphery.