Turin Brakes – Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian – return and expectancy is, well, middling at best: for all the promise of their Mercury-nominated 2001 debut The Optimist, subsequent releases have failed to capture its essence, and with it the buzz around the Turin Brakes brand.
Rather than second or third album syndrome, it would appear that the band’s trajectory was altered as a matter of design rather than fault. Eschewing organic acoustica in favour of soft-rock stylings, and accumulating bodies in the process, Olly and Gale swapped Emergency 72’s exquisite paranoia for Snow Patrol-style safe playing.
And while these albums – Ether Song, JackInABox, Dark On Fire – were all perfectly well received, being as they were entirely competent productions, they spurned Optimist’s rawness, sounding by comparison extremely polished and comfortable, not to mention flirting dangerously with the slumbering tenets of easy listening.
This is why Outbursts may just exceed wavering expectations. Written, produced and performed by just the two of them (for the most part, anyway), Turin Brakes are harking back to their edgier origins. To paraphrase Olly, they’re no longer having to play major label politics. The scene is set.
Opening track and lead single Sea Change sets the band’s stall with aplomb, a folky strum soon joined by a thumping kick drum and Olly’s trademark timbre: “Six billion backs against the wall / Now do we walk or run?” It’s a leap back to their 2001 urgency, everything intact, everything immediate.
Mirror further channels their minor chord micro-masterpieces, a soaring chorus underpinned by an infectious acoustic lick. It’s the kind of track they have always been able to craft, but, stripped back of any unnecessary production, it boasts the hitherto-absent freshness that put Turin Brakes on the map in the first place.
Rocket Song, similarly, features the kind of glorious crescendos that marked Ether Song, the effect here rendered all the more potent thanks to an uncluttered approach: Olly’s ascent through the scales is the track’s selling point, and it is afforded the reverence to stand as such.
And the highlights keep on coming: Paper Heart’s heartbreaking waltz and delicate harmonies remind you just how good the band can be toned down; The Invitation exhibits similar tenderness, almost channelling Radiohead‘s purest acoustic sadness; Apocolips’ unsettlingly pacy picking blossoms into a chorus of unexpected chord changes and harmonies, the listener’s ear urged to lend undivided attention.
Into the album’s final third, Embryos sees Gale take up vocal duties, and while his delivery is more than a little reminiscent of Flight Of The Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie, it is a track both charming and loveable in its delicacy, honesty and ever-so-slightly awkward execution.
Never Stops and The Letting Down breed the Turin Brakes formula with old country and blues principles to shimmering effect, while Radio Silence endows the album with its songwriting zenith: a classic progression interwoven with clever hooks, it suddenly explodes into growling power chords and a wailing solo, as if the band have enlisted the help of prog rock’s founding fathers.
By the time the sad tones of Outbursts’ poignant title track have faded from earshot, there is little left to doubt about Turin Brakes’ success in meeting their self-imposed remit. Without wishing to unduly gloss over the intermitting albums, Outbursts captures and builds upon the intangible beauty of their debut effort. Turin Brakes are, once again, a must-hear.