Going To California

South London duo head out West to beef up sound for follow-up to The Optimist LP

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Loud, it seems, is the new loud. Back in 2001, when Turin Brakes released The Optimist LP and were bracketed with the “New Acoustic Movement”, it would have been inconceivable for them to have been invited onto a show like Born Sloppy, trying to make themselves heard above Sara Cox and her lairy sub-Chris Evans circus. But that’s exactly what they did last month. Ether Song, their new album, was recorded in two weeks in California with Beck/Air/Supergrass producer Tony Hoffer. However, this amounts to more than a commercially expedient attempt to amplify themselves in the musical marketplace. Ether Song merely brings to the surface all the volatility and emotional charge that was inherent in their work.

Exposure to Los Angeles has certainly impacted on their music?there’s a Southern-fried, sun-dried air about Ether Song in the slide guitars of “Self-Help”, which threaten to drift off into “Freebird” mode, or the laid-back, electric keyboard licks of “Full Of Stars”. Yet their music is characterised by a quiet desperation in the face of life’s vicissitudes that is very English. Rain is a recurring motif, with even the occasional hurricane, as (human) nature does its worst.

“Average Man” and “Self-Help” are excellent songs about mid-life crises, though presumably Turin Brakes are too young for such things. The first encapsulates that horrible moment of epiphany when a demon whispers to you that whatever you thought you might make of yourself, it ain’t going to happen now. The narrator of “Self-Help”, meanwhile, is in such a state that he has to talk himself through life one step at a time: “Tell yourself you’re not in it for the money…”. By “Panic Attack”, things have reached crisis point.

The single, “Pain Killer”, is as ecstatic as “Self-Help” is distraught, as bracing as the summer shower that strikes in its chorus. Finally, “Little Brother” and “Rain City” paint more settled and evocative pictures, after the best and worst is over. A tug of war between demons and angels, Ether Song is an album of ups and downs?but its standards remain uniformly high.

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