Now that Coldplay and Travis have made a dent here in the states, we can certainly expect more Brit melancholia. With that in mind, meet Turin Brakes, who follows pretty much the same acoustic folk-rock blueprint on its debut, The Optimist LP. A humorless south London version of Tenacious D, schoolboy chums Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian received guitars for Christmas while in their teens. Together, they rocked the house for hours a day in their bedrooms. Now 24, the pair has taken their well-honed acoustic jams to the people.
While Turin Brakes shares the common thread of moaning self pity with its contemporaries, it has a decidedly diverse sound; sometimes sparse, other times lush--often within the same song. The Optimist LP begins organically with the plink of a piano and the strum of an acoustic guitar and builds slowly--bass here, percussion there--until swells of strings hum underneath Knights' treacle-sweet voice. His innocence is engaging, but his lyrical choices are instantly questionable. He employs the seldom used gerund ice creaming in the opening track "Feeling Oblivion," and he issues the golden nugget of wisdom "syphilis is a bitch, but contracting HIV is much worse" in the orchestral epic "Future Boy."
Fortunately, there's enough to like to get past the seventh-grade poetry. "The Door" is a countrified slide-guitar classic, and the chorus of "State of Things" practically crawls inside your head and lays eggs. There are a few narcoleptic numbers such as "By TV Light" and the ironic album closer "The Optimist," but for the most part Turin Brakes has a little shimmy to go with its soul. It even takes a cue from British stoners Gomez on the bluesy shuffle "Emergency 72." The most memorable track is "Mind Over Money"; Knights' vocal acrobatics and crisp fret work come together beautifully as he sings, "what does this matter in the grand scheming sky/all that I multiply adds up to nothing." The moping is put aside for the out-of-character, plugged-in "Slack." A suddenly "hard" Knights claims "rescued a cat from a tree/I killed it dead for liking me."
As a whole, The Optimist LP isn't as consistently good as Travis' recent The Invisible Band or Coldplay's Parachutes, but there are inspired moments. Turin Brakes has thankfully taken the new acoustic template and made it its own, incorporating soulful harmonies and sometimes raw production. Soon enough, British wankery will go the way of grunge, making way for the next Next Big Thing. Happily, Turin Brakes has made the scene before it's too late. Better late than never.
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