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Turin Brakes

+ {Olly Knights}

Formed early 1999, in Balham, south London, long-time childhood buddies Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian have, over the years, fused elements of post-Britpop TRAVIS, JEFF BUCKLEY, rivals STARSAILOR, and a modern-day take on Laurel Canyon soft-rock folkies such as BREAD, AMERICA, EAGLES and CSN&Y. Not quite an international act in their attempts to fit their sound in within the aforementioned West Coast fraternity, TURIN BRAKES are part of the unofficial NAM (New Acoustic Movement); gauged from massive hit, `Pain Killer’ and other modest British chart breakers, `Underdog (Save Me)’, `Mind Over Money’, `Emergency 72’, `Long Distance’ at al.
Kick-starting their campaign with `The Door’ EP (for Anvil Records), songs such as the title track embodied a hushed, acoustic motif, with Olly on vocals/guitar, and Gale playing whatever took his fancy. The record helped them grab the attention of independent label, Source, who issued two post-millennium EPs `The State Of Things’ and `Fight Or Flight’, while re-issuing `The Door’ as a bona fide minor hit in March 2001.
After much media attention, and from MTV’s own “alternative” music channel MTV2, the duo occupied a Top 30 chart position with their debut album, THE OPTIMIST LP (2001) {*8}. The Mercury Music Prize-nominated set (issued in America for Astralwerks), with added percussion, piano and emotive session-friendly strings, spawned three further hit platters, namely `Underdog (Save Me)’, the sublime `Mind Over Money’ and `72’; with Knights’ vocal gymnastics being a particular highlight.
The quietly confident duo would return from L.A. in late 2002 with a near-Top 20 single, `Long Distance’, a preview to possibly their best work to date, the delicate ETHER SONG (2003) {*8}; another to add to the post-millennium canon of soft, melodic rock. Producer Tony Hoffer brought out the best in Knights’ earnest lyrics, with the aforesaid `Pain Killer (Summer Rain)’, the gorgeous `Average Man’ and `5 Mile (These Are The Days)’, setting the tone quite nicely. Elsewhere on the Top 5 album, `Clean Blue Air’ was TURIN BRAKES at their lo-fi indie best, while the lengthy hidden title track soared with majestic grace, proving that the pair hadn’t lost the verve and reverence displayed on their earlier material.
Adding session/tour auxiliaries Eddie Myer (bass), Phil Marten (keyboards) and Rob Allum (drums), JACKINABOX (2005) {*6} fused renaissance, freewheeling folk-rock with a hint of 60s psychedelia (think TIM BUCKLEY or CROSBY, STILLS & NASH); highlights of the Top 10 set included sole hit, `Fishing For A Dream’, plus `Red Moon’, `Asleep With The Fireflies’ and flop single, `Over And Over’.
Roping in producer Ethan Johns to work on album number four, DARK ON FIRE (2007) {*6}, mixed reviews (from the NME to The Guardian) had Source Records panicking when the record only scraped up a week in the Top 40. Yearning and ethereal in a post-punk attempt to rid themselves of any West Coast affiliations, the lack of attendant hits from either `Stalker’ and `Something In My Eye’ singles dropped the combo down a peg; accusations of plundering the heart-worn emotions of EMBRACE’s Danny McNamara or The VERVE’s Richard Ashcroft, were blunt and cutting to the bone in their experimental quest to dig themselves from the Laurel Canyons of their minds.
Hoping to save their souls for an austere back-to-basics return, Cooking Vinyl Records gave TURIN BRAKES free rein to explore and expand on their BREAD/CROSBY & NASH-like indie-folk set, OUTBURSTS (2010) {*7}. Opening with `Sea Change’, and comfortable in their mid-tempo melodies (`Rocket Song’, `Paper Heart’, `Will Power’ and `Embryos’, plaintive and climactic all), the album deserved better than its lowly No.64 peak.
As a result, with covers of The ROLLING STONES’ `Moonlight Mile’, AC/DC’s `What’s Next To The Moon’ and RED HOT CHILI PEPPER’s `Breaking The Girl’ already behind them, TURIN BRAKES clawed back the years on self-financed EPs `Everybody Knows Every Day’s A Wicked Black Game’ (covers from NEIL YOUNG to CHRIS ISAAK) and `Xerox’ (covers from Walt Disney to STEELY DAN). Also marking time was Concert Live’s Koko, London set of 11th November 2011, THE OPTIMIST: LIVE (2012) {*6} and OLLY KNIGHTS’ vinyl-only excursion IF NOT NOW WHEN (2012) {*6}.
Shrouded not in Turin, but in Naples, Italy, where they recorded the triumphant WE WERE HERE (2013) {*7}, Cooking Vinyl were aided by Ali Staton on co-production; 5th member Marten had now bailed. A return to the Top 50, there was a renewed vigour and urgency in tracks such as `Time And Money’, `Blindsided Again’, `Sleeper’ and Goodbye’.
Not exactly the greatest of titles (really reserved for back-tracking sets), the near-Top 30 LOST PROPERTY (2016) {*8} was TB’s sparkling and seductive return to 18-carat perfection. Jam-packed full of semi-soft-rock classics that would’ve given the BUCKLEY’s and the Laurel Canyon crew a run for their money, there was a sharper edge to their earworm melodies. Highlighted by the sentimentality-slick, STARSAILOR-esque `Jump Start’ (`Rome’ was virtually cut from the same cloth), the lyrically-astute opening triumvirate of `96’, `Keep Me Around’ and the aptly-titled `The Quiet Ones’ (plus the title track, `Brighter Than The Dark’, `Save You’ and the BREAD-like `Hope We Make It’), the clock was turned back 15 years… and then some.
Nearing their 20th anniversary since forming, the London quartet led by the passionate Olly, were brief Top 40 breakers once again a la the sunny day-vs-autumnal, Ali Staton-produced INVISIBLE STORM (2018) {*7}. Anyone missing TRAVIS, STARSAILOR and DAVID GATES would be well-advised to press-play the fireside folk-rock of `Always’, `Lost In The Wood’ and the title track, or even the bluesy `Deep Sea Diver’.
© MC Strong/MCS 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2016-Feb2018

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