Turin Brakes : The Optimist LP

One of the finest debuts for years - like hearing 'Five Leaves Left' for the first time...

It’s one of those albums. Like ‘Parachutes’, for some, we suppose. But then listening to Coldplay instead of Turin Brakes is like the [I]Almost Famous[/I] generation choosing Don McLean over Tim Buckley. One’s comforting, familiar, pretty; the other strikes at your soul. And it’s a special kind of record which can encourage [I]and[/I] soundtrack such introspection, without losing its edge to indulgent miserabilism.

So, after the lights go out, what will you do? Well, here’s music for the twilight hours – feverish, contemplative, nostalgic. It resonates with the force of a thousand passionate post-club conversations in darkened, smoke-filled rooms, of intense, doomed liaisons, of youthful arrogance undercut by fear and failure. Were we not living in an age of hype overload and information saturation (something on which the record itself obliquely comments), if we could come across ‘The Optimist LP’ fresh and unsullied, it would be like discovering Nick Drake’s ‘Five Leaves Left’, or REM’s ‘Murmur’ – that same sense of a talent so fully-formed, even from the start, that it seems strange that the music hasn’t always been there.

Hopefully – perhaps inevitably – Olly Knights and Gale Paradganian are already in your life. They’ve been playing some astonishingly tense, fervent live gigs recently, and they’ve already released a number of beautifully assured EPs, each one expanding on the initial, two-man space-folk sound which surfaced on the

‘No Division’ EP barely 18 months ago. On the album, they’re sharper, more focused, but it’s still an emotionally exhausting ride. Olly is blessed with a voice which can harshly twang and softly croon, often simultaneously, can register naivety and crushing world-weariness in the same phrase. The nuance of the line “making me breathe again” in stand-out ‘Emergency 72’ is enough to break your heart.

It’s moments like that which endear you to Turin Brakes. The gentle strings in ‘Feeling Oblivion’. The gorgeous chime of Paradganian’s slide guitar on ‘The Door’. The desperate, claustrophobic descending melody of ‘Future Boy’. It’s like dustbowl folk music refracted through inner-city noise, bluesy, intimate comedown sounds invested with a surreal energy.

It’s a debut, so it’s not faultless. These are delicate souls, and the rock dynamics of ‘Slack’ don’t suit them. Olly’s lyrics, too, are – like Michael Stipe’s – often so obscure as to be meaningless. But they’ll build on this, and next time, or maybe the time after that, we’ll have a classic on our hands.

For now, this more than suffices. Coming up as the night comes down, coming down as the lights go up – and then when it’s all over, there’s ‘The Optimist LP’. It’s one of [I]those[/I] albums.

Christian Ward