Friday, February 26, 2010

Turin Brakes and "Outbursts" - Can't Hold it in Any Longer

I'm going to switch gears from writing about training to talk about one of my other passions - MUSIC. To know me is to know how music is a huge part of my life. And I'm lucky to share my love of music with my husband Jim -- although our sonic tastes sometimes diverge, we have mutual appreciation of similar genres and we can depend on one another for support in road tripping it to concerts whenever possible.

To know me is also to know about my passion for UK musicians Turin Brakes. Calling me a "fan" doesn't even begin to describe it. Thus, I fear that writing a review of their new album, "Outbursts," will come across as just another gushing fanatic doing her thing. But I'm going to do it anyway and include a little history so that maybe one of my readers will consider taking a listen when they're perusing the shelves (or web pages) in a search of new music.

To me, Turin Brakes defies simple classification. Some people call them folk. Some call them pop. Some say rock or alt-rock. I say: stop and listen. Listen to the pain-inducing slide guitar and unique guitar picking. Listen to the spine-tingling harmonies... and that VOICE. Then, tell me this isn't some kind of singular undefinable genre. Oh, there are critics. I'll never forget reading a review of their epic song "Long Distance" in which it was described as sounding like two people arguing in a thunderstorm. It was obvious that the reviewer was grasping at the genius of the song and describing it as a negative thing.

My first contact with Turin Brakes was in 2002 when they supported David Gray in Newcastle, England. My life was forever changed with the first note of opener "Blue Hour." By the end of their set, I was having trouble breathing and could no longer stand from weakness in my knees. Never before had I experienced as strong an emotional or physical reaction to music. And to this day, their album "Ether Song" still has the power to eliminate anxiety for me. It was my constant companion in mid-2003 during endless nights of pain while recovering from being hit by a truck on my bike.

"Outbursts," Turin Brakes' fifth studio album, comes as an indie release on Cooking Vinyl. Many reviews are saying it's a return to what they do best, i.e., what they did on their first album, "The Optimist LP," and what my good friend Andy describes as the "intimacy of two guys playing guitars in a room." Although I "get" what they mean, I don't think Turin Brakes ever lost what made their music so unique and beautiful. As all great bands do, Turin Brakes grew and progressed and explored their sound in each subsequent album. And what I believe they've come 'round to is how to create their own particular brand of intimacy in their music -- I think that's what makes their sound what it is and how people best identify with it.

The first time I heard "Outbursts," I had a singular thought -- every song sounds like a movie soundtrack - not a song "from" a soundtrack, but the actual soundtrack itself. In my mind's eye, I could even see a flickering film reel for each of the 12 little standalone movies. This doesn't surprise me, as I remember reading that the origin of Turin Brakes was with singer Olly Knights, a film school student, enlisting childhood friend and fellow musician, Gale Paridjanian, to collaborate on a film. Perhaps another manifestation of their recent "back to basics" approach?

As I listened to "Outbursts" many more times, I came to realize that this album is a statement of maturity in finding that natural songwriting state -- the one that (probably) accidentally thrust them into the limelight all those years ago. As I already mentioned, with this album, they recreate the intimacy and immediacy of two guys with guitars -- with amazing voices and unique harmonies. Each song has a personality and style all its own, and none of them go in an expected direction. Yet, every song is typical "Turin Brakes" -- it sounds like an oxymoron, but I can't come up with another way to describe it. The first song, "Sea Change," and last, "Outbursts," are like bookends to the TB sound -- the first is a virtuoso musical piece, the other, a light calm-inducing love song. It's a very wide range and yet still "theirs."

I won't bore people with a song-by-song exploration of the album, but I'll give a few observations. "Rocket Song" continues the ever-present theme in their music of the fascination with flight. The song truly "feels" like a rocket launch. There's also that age-old thing about their lyrics -- where "you think you know what he's talking about... but not really." "Outbursts" contains great Turin Brakes lyrics that are just on the edge of comprehendible comfort. I've also noticed that they have embraced sweeping apocalyptic themes on this album, evident in songs "Sea Change" and "Embryos" -- and (obviously) "Apocolips." At the moment, my personal favorite is "Radio Silence" -- I have no explanation as to why, it just is. But, as is noted in "Will Power," "this will change." And with Turin Brakes, THAT is something we can be sure of -- and, to my delight, it will always sound just like Turin Brakes.

For more, please check out Turin Brakes web site. And here are some videos I took at a 2009 Turin Brakes gig in London.

New Single, Sea Change and what I like to call the "claymation evolution video":

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