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Turin Brakes - Ether Song

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Artist: Turin Brakes

Album: Ether Song

Label: Astralwerks

Review date: Apr. 8, 2003

Turin Breaks

The promise of Turin Brakes self-titled debut The Optimist was that of a fresh sound: a languished-over mood of supple songcraft.

Lumped in with sallow groups like Coldplay and "slo-core," The Optimist release was a magnificent, if sometimes overwrought, work that warranted a Mercury Music Prize nomination. Its androgyny and existentialism were off-putting. On repeated listens, the album became more intimate and spooky. It was delightfully drenched in impeccably-done, and hard-to-resist, melancholia.

Ether Song though, takes a dramatic turn away from that sound. Upon repeated listens, the album gets about as intimate as Wembley. Played-up drum fills, crescendoed dynamics and large soundboards add little to the Turin Brakes sound.

The standout track, "Falling Down," is an example of what Olly and Gale can do – strum-guided harmonic fluidity that would make remixers drool. And there are segments of songs which recall those days long gone. Indeed, I might recommend over half this album. But "Long Distance," "Self Help," "Clear Blue Air" and others grow into bombastic, gory assaults of jammitude. David Grey to cosmological thread!

How did this happen? Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian [indeed] have known each other for more than a decade. They met in choir when they were 10, sang for the Queen, etc.

To be short, Ether Song is what three weeks in the L.A. record-machine will get you.

Perhaps this is the intention: to record an album of Herculean strattletude; to match, blow-for-blow, the Coldplay Mothra. Getting paired-up with Tony Hoffer has that effect. Under Hoffer's care we've seen Beck's Midnite Vultures, Air's 10,000 Hz Legend, Scapegoat Wax and Brazzaville. He also appears to be friends with Nigel Godrich [On Ether Song Olly's vocal treatment does induce Thom Yorke flashbacks].

Or perhaps Turin Brakes themselves wanted to do something different. Journalists covering The Optimist half-berated them for being so melancholic or "folkie" [methinks they were talking to the wrong scribes]. Maybe a little L.A. sunshine would groom them from their Balham overcast. They wanted to rock.

According to interviews, though, Turin Brakes offered Hoffer 30 demos to choose from. As Gale put it, "a lot of the songs were songs which we had written off." Oh, my (on "Pain Killer" we get "My love / Giving me head / Feeling very guilty / Breaking the bread", preceded by "You give me so much love / It blows my brains out". Yowchers). But moreover, as Paridjanian continues: "it was a complete relief for us to hear someone say, 'You have to move on. You don't want to make that same album again.'"

I would have to ask "Who said that?"

Hoffer, or whomever, should have allowed them to make that same album if they were so inclined, or, at least to expand upon it. But whatever the process, Ether Song transformed Turin Brakes from a soothing sound into a big, building sound that, frankly, induces headaches.

They've met a threshold that could see increased sales and get them a nice third record. They'll always be talented, after all. And ultimately make another disque that transcends like The Optimist. So long as they stick more with the overcast mood. Because, as Olly himself says, "there's more than enough people writing happy stuff."

By David Day

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