South London outfit strip things back to the bare essentials on the dappled textures and pastoral flavours of ninth album
When you are a band heading into your third decade of existence, how do you find musical inspiration? In Turin Brakes’ case, it was time to strip things back to the bare essentials.
With the unpredictability of the pandemic surrounding London, the quartet repaired to the garden studio of singer Olly Knights. Their objective was to make songs together in a pressure-free environment, and the music evolved through the summer of 2021, the band taking to the lawn to sift through the results. Music often reflects the place in which it was made, and these instinctive songs have dappled textures and a pastoral flavour that clearly gave those making it a great deal of pleasure.
The lyrics, however, suggest deeper and darker forces at work. They imply that this album was anything but a simple diversion – it was music that had to be made to keep each person sane in the face of so much bad news and adversity. The listener is let in on the band’s truer feelings as the darker underbelly of each song makes itself known.
The airy chorus of Up For Grabs is typical of the album’s surface mood, but World Like That immediately has a question to answer. “What are you gonna do when you turn your tap and nothing comes out?” asks Knights, sitting in the shadows of brightly voiced acoustic guitars. “Where you gonna go when the night’s so black if you’ve got it figured out?” The song has a curious tension, twisting awkwardly through the harmonies of its bridge passage. As the lyric notes, everything in the songwriters’ world is upside down.
The composition proves a model song for the rest of the album, which shows the band finding solace and temporary happiness in the garden in spite of their keen awareness of the world that exists on the other side of the hedgerow. The Ride makes a strong impression at the album’s core, its soft shuffling groove supporting a blend of intricate guitars and layered, wistful vocals. A heat haze hangs over this and much of the album, extending to the title track, where rich harmonies act like a musical hammock.
Isolation is a striking song. Written before Covid times, it has an urgency that many of the compositions here do not show. Ground has a similar yearning, albeit at a slower tempo, its harmonies pulling at the heartstrings. “There will always be rainbows when you’re around” is the overriding message of the album’s opening track, uncannily released at the time Queen Elizabeth II’s death has been marked by a stunning rainbow at Buckingham Palace. By the album’s closer, No Rainbow, deeper thought has set in and the colours are fading fast.
Knights’ distinctive vocals mean that Turin Brakes continue to have an instantly recognisable sound, and as they reach their ninth album they are still in fine musical condition. Wide-Eyed Nowhere may be one of their more world-weary albums, but it has a strong resolve which means the pastoral pop wins through after its series of struggles. This says much for the band’s need to make music, heading into a third decade of lovingly crafted compositions.