TURIN BRAKES The Optimist LP (Source)
Aside from being what prevents my tiny Fiat from sliding into the scenery on a daily basis, Turin Brakes are also one of the leading lights of the New Acoustic Movement, whatever that is. They're a duo who play folky, strummy stuff on acoustic guitar and piano, backed up by a wholesome confection of bass, strings and percussion. If that makes them sound pale and insubstantial consider that their music also stretches back to Old Acoustic Music stalwarts such as Love and Nick Drake, as well as taking on board the influence of more contemporary cohorts like R.E.M. and Belle And Sebastian.
In parts, "The Optimist LP" is wonderful, life-affirming stuff. Opener "Feeling Oblivion" leaps into your lounge like "Pink Moon"'s upbeat, partying younger brother (something to do with that sparse, three note piano introduction, I would guess). "Underdog (Save Me)" somehow manages to be simultaneously folky and funky, whilst "Future Boy", the only track whose lyrics break through rigorous encoding worthy of Michael Stipe to encourage scrutiny, is another charmer. But after this astonishing beginning the album seems to coast gently downhill: the feel is the same, an utterly immaculate construction of peculiarly English whimsy and sun-kissed Californian melodies, but with the possible exception of the penultimate "Mind Over Money" it seems as if Turin Brakes have run out of things to say and tricks to play.
But maybe that's just me being greedy. Maybe bands shouldn't put their three best songs on the beginning of an album. What "The Optimist LP" clearly demonstrates is that there is something potentially, and hopefully eventually, great about Turin Brakes' traditional infusion, even if it doesn't deliver quite the kick it initially promises.
TURIN BRAKES/I AM KLOOT The Sugar House, Lancaster 2 March 2003
The Sugar House is Lancaster University's Student Union, and, despite being hidden away down a back alley appears on first acquaintance to be almost the perfect venue: not too large or cramped, places to sit, places to stand and a car park near by. Equally, I Am Kloot seem to be the perfect Turin Brakes support act. A trio from Manchester (a fact that, when revealed, prompts members of the audience to yell the names of the city's suburbs, to which the group's singer/guitarist responds, "Fuck, I shouldn't have said anything, this'll go on for the next hour and a half now", which it almost does) they have a dry, self-deprecating wit - "This one's about drinking and disaster", "This one's about television and disaster", "This one's about Manchester and disaster" - and songs that are good enough without being sufficiently immediate to upstage the headliners. They provide a welcome distraction from the venue's rapidly rising temperature for 35 minutes, at least.
When Turin Brakes amble on stage, the acoustic duo of Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian is augmented by a drummer, keyboard player and bassist (whose performance, attendance even, is commendable given that "He's been throwing up all night"), which doesn't bode well. As figureheads, along with Kings Of Convenience, of the New Acoustic (micro)Movement, the music contained on their sparkling debut "The Optimist LP" could be considered too delicate to be weighted down with such added heavyosity. They lose points immediately by opening with a tune from their second album, cleverly scheduled for release the morning after the gig, and it's immediately tragically apparent that the kind of instant, skewed charm, the post-millennial Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel sound of folk music made hip, modern, shiny and accessible, that Turin Brakes once possessed has been trampled beyond all recognition. It's almost as if loud is the new quiet, their new music being strangled by the kind of quiet verse-loud chorus grunge songs structures that were rapidly becoming pass a decade ago, even. Happily, they play a goodly proportion of "Optimist" material, which, when tiptoeing delicately around some surprisingly clumsy pitfalls - the joyous "Feeling Oblivion" slowed to a funereal dirge, "Slack" fuzzed up to fit the new model Brakes template - provided the evening's better moments. But, for those of us who preferred the Turin Brakes who had something genuinely fresh and interesting to contribute, the fact that, as announced from the stage by Ollie (I think), their latest single "Painkiller", a pedestrian slab of dumbed-down student night fodder, had reached number five in the hit parade that very evening, would seem to sound the creative death knell of a once great band.TURIN BRAKES Late Night Tales (Azuli/Whoa)
"Late Night Tales" is not radically dissimilar in concept from the myriad other compilation series in which musicians are invited to expose their record collections, influences and tastes to the scrutiny of the discerning public. In the hands of Turin Brakes, however, it becomes a magical listening experience, a predominately slow, sensuous and shuffly way to spend an hour.
Spinning a web of rootsy blues, dextrous jazz and ethereal instrumentals, Olly and Gale impress from the first with Nicolai Dungar's "Last Night I Dreamt Of Mississippi". It's no surprise to discover Will Oldham's shadowy presence over this track, which could soundtrack events when Tortoise's tour bus breaks down in the delta. John Barry's mournful harmonica theme from "Midnight Cowboy" is next - often referenced, little heard, it's a delight to finally own. As is Silver Jews' "Send In The Clouds", a subtle blend of their sometime labelmates Pavement and Grandaddy (the latter's influence particularly evident on the line "Windex tears roll down the robot's face"). Dispelling any notion that it's all maudlin acoustic introspection chez Brakes, Les Barons Feat. Henri Gao-Bi's "Lagos Soundsystem" is joyous, acrobatic Afro funk, and G. Love & Special Sauce's "Blues Music" recalls the 15 minutes in 1994 when the more excitable elements of the music press declared their fusion of blues and hip-hop to be the future of rock and roll.
Turin Brakes' touring and session keyboardist Dave Palmer turns the late, lamented Elliot Smith's "Speed Trails" into the kind of clanky Satie machine music Aphex Twin pursued on his "Drukqs" album, and J.J. Cale's "Magnolia" has been a lodestar for a generation of mellow-fingered guitarists. Inevitably overshadowing whatever surrounds it by being one of the greatest recordings in creation, Talk Talk's "I Believe In You" - sadly presented here in truncated form - is a symbiotic fusion of "Astral Weeks" and The Blue Nile that practically bleeds atmosphere. I can echo the compilers' assertion in the booklet notes that in "Spirit Of Eden" and "Laughing Stock" Talk Talk "left us with two of the best albums to ever be cut to vinyl".
After Al Di Meola Feat. John McLaughlin's elaborate "Short Tales Of The Black Forest" - the acceptable face of widdly jazz, but widdly jazz nevertheless - the stark, bluff simplicity of Smog's "Cold Blooded Old Times" is a welcome palate cleanser, and Jessica Lauren's "A Pearl For Iona" is a lovely synthesised snow flurry of a song. In fact, "Late Night Tales" only unravels upon reaching its much trumpeted exclusive elements. Turin Brakes themselves offer a sleepy acoustic cover of The Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile", which is serviceable enough but inevitably pales against both what precedes it and the string-sodden drama of the original. Closing the evening is the final of four parts of the short story "The White City", written by Whitbread winner Patrick Neate and narrated by Brian Blessed, modishly described here as "the great British baritone MC". It pushes all the right multimedia buttons, but really belongs in a completely different place entirely. None of which can undo the fact that this is one of the best compilation albums in the world ever, and sends anticipation spiralling for the next episode in the series, curated by folktronica pioneer Four Tet.