Turin Brakes


Once upon a time, Turin Brakes released a record that even now, nearly a decade on, would – with a gentle update or two, perhaps – stand a good chance of riding a zeitgeist, bolstering the ranks of the slightly lacking British contingent of acoustic folk acts (and to even consider an answering volley to those echoey East Coasters and and smooth Scandinavians, my!). With the release of 2001’s understated The Optimist LP, the acoustic duo from Balham were even placed by some observers in the center of a ‘movement’ no less: the heroes of New Acoustic were out of the gates.

It might be tempting, bearing in mind evidence of a powerful latent ability and excepting the flashes of brilliance (yes, really) scattered unevenly across the three albums that followed, to read Turin Brakes’ discography since 2001 as a parade of narrowly but definitely missed chances to nail something momentous. Regardless, Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian have always shown glimmers of promise. While they’ve lapsed at times into indie-guitar-pop-whitewash drudgery, they never stopped lacing the occasional song with shavings of 24-carat beauty – enough for some to sustain a belief that sooner or later, when conditions are right, they might finally blow something right out of the water. Nearly, nearly, nearly.

Outbursts opens strongly, with an almost self-conciously vintage Turin Brakes feel. Olly Knights’ vocal performance promises to be as deft as ever: "One million backs against the wall, now do we walk or run?/And if we don’t do this, nobody else will." It’s energetic but just restrained enough to drum up tension, working exactly as a lot of the better Turin Brakes material does. Harmonies on ‘Paper Heart’ sail just on the right side of saccharine – ‘If only I knew that your spark, would set fire to my paper heart’ – while the classic configuration of lacquered acoustic guitars and ‘Ahhh’/’Oooh’-ing vocal harmonies on ‘The Invitation’ pounds home the message: Turin Brakes are finished being a guitar-flavoured pop band, they’re an acoustic duo again. By the time we arrive at ‘Embryos’ it’s become startlingly easy to close eyes and pretend to hear an infinitely more fashionable folk band from somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic. Out via ‘Outbursts’ and a soulful lament -‘I’ll love you, I’ll love you, ev-ry day" – backed by a lone guitar makes a refreshingly low-fi chaser to all of that studio sheen. Overall, a clear sense of self-reflective nostalgia lingers on the palate after the final notes have faded. There’s a nudge. "Remember Rain City? We’re still those guys. We still have soul."

For the most part this is an encouraging listen, but the nagging thought remains that if Turin Brakes had just taken a few more risks, pushed it a bit further, they might finally have produced something to get truly excited about. Credit where it’s due, though: Outbursts is the work of a richer, freer and more bombastic Turin Brakes, and undoubtedly a move back toward the terrain they once ruled. One can only hope that they can maintain the stamina and imagination for at least one more go-around. If this is Turin Brakes at their best again, an ear should be kept to ground, just in case – just in case – they should come back and better it. That would be something.

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