Turin Brakes is one of those excellent British bands that hasn't gotten much attention in the American mainstream yet, along with the guys in South, Elbow and Mercury Rev. And after their shimmery space-folk album "Ether Song," their second, we can see that this is totally undeserved.
A spacey organ buildup, a trippy beat and a folky guitar open the first song, "Blue Hour." This song sets the tone for the rest of the album, with its mix of spacey shoegazer and folk-rock, set to angsty lyrics about "let the sun be done/let the air wash the city clean." It's one of those songs that gets deeper and more layered the more you listen to it.
But the album really catches your attention with the soft, rising "Long Distance," which is the softest song that Muse never wrote. And in some songs like "Self Help" and "Panic Attack," the boys eschew the spacepop angle in favor of some mild spacerock. Nothing too hard, just a ringing electric guitar that weaves into the music seamlessly.
With those new additions, it's obvious that Turin Brakes is trying out new things, rather than sticking slavishly to what got them famous in the first place. The only flaw is that they seem a bit undecided what direction to take, and so "Ether Song" feels a bit unguided. But it's somehow pleasant to hear Ollie Knights singing in his slightly wobbly voice, "Remind myself that I'm not just in it for the money." Refreshing.
This U.K. duo started off with acoustic guitar, bass and drums, augmented by some low-key keyboard that adds a delicate edge to otherwise ordinary rock instrumentation. And in "Ether Song," Knights and multitalented bandmate Gale Paridjanian are experimenting with a less folk, more rock sound. Fortunately, they know how to mesh electric guitar into the instrumentation.
With music like that, it's inevitable that the songs are a bit on the downbeat side; Knight and Paridjanian's songs tend to be focused on love and dissatisfaction, only breaking out for the poignant "Little Brother," which is all about someone ELSE's loneliness. It's the sound of unhappiness, which could be optimistic if given a little shove.
These twentysomething musicians -- who are about to release their third album -- are in good form in their second space-rock-folk album, "Ether Song."