Unfairly thrown in with the short lived ‘New Acoustic Movement’ on the basis that, well, they play acoustic guitars, Turin Brakes debut album garnered a loyal fan base and a Mercury Music Prize nomination when it was released. The Optimist was a fine record, guaranteed to engender a warm glow upon anyone who listened to it. However if it had a flaw, it was that the gentle acoustic setting lacked variety, leaving some songs sounding vaguely monotonous.
Ether Song attempts to address this by bringing in Tony Hoffer, whose previous credits include Air and Beck amongst others. From the opening Blue Hour, it’s immediately apparent that there’s a new found muscularity and confidence to Turin Brakes here, resulting in an album that betters it’s predecessor by some distance. Hoffer’s influence is apparent on the opening track, as strummed guitars fight for space with space age keyboard samples.
The single Long Distance already hinted that singer Olly Knights has had more than his fair share of heartbreak recently, as evidenced by the snarling chorus of “I let someone get under my skin”. This theme continues throughout the record, especially on the resigned Stone Thrown. The sense of sadness is palpable here, from the opening lines of “I’m a stone you’ve just thrown into the ocean” to the flashes of anger that occur as the song progresses. It’s a beautiful song, and will be haunting many a listener soon.
Yet it’s not all heartache and misery – Painkiller has some really rather filthy lyrics (“My love giving me head” indeed…) before exploding into the most glorious, exhilarating chorus that’s been written in a long while. It’s scheduled to be the band’s next single, and if there’s any justice it will be a very big hit indeed. Then there’s Little Brother, in which Turin Brakes, in a very real sense, rock out. A wail of guitars fight with each other as Knights growls through the song in a manner that’s likely to frighten anybody who bought The Optimist for it’s easy going nature.
In a way, this is a similar second album to Coldplay‘s A Rush Of Blood To The Head. The band have kept the values that made ‘The Optimist’ such a rewarding listen, and built on these to produce an even better set of songs. Whether they can emulate the success of Chris Martin and the boys remains to be seen, but whatever the charts say, this is already one of the releases of the year.