A stripped-back affair, but overly familiar and sadly nondescript.
Tom Hocknell 2010-03-03
This, their first studio album since 2007’s Dark on Fire, continues Turin Brakes’ folk-infused journey from the southern end of London’s Northern Line. Since their emergence via the spuriously labelled ‘new acoustic movement’, alongside Kings of Convenience, in 2001, they have been occasionally written off as insubstantial, despite their albums suggesting otherwise. Following the more band-orientated atmospheres of recent releases, Outbreaks is stripped back to the core duo of school friends Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian.
Some bands are liberated by the closure afforded by releasing a greatest hits set, as Turin Brakes did in 2009, but on this evidence not much has changed. Outbreaks features a familiar sound – perhaps over familiar to those finding their last outing wanting. This album’s calling card, Sea Change, starts so well that the rest of the album fades in its shadow. It’s a gentle epic, building from an acoustic start, slowly introducing kick drum, vocal harmonies and strings, and with the emergence of cowbells even the kazoo must be hoping for an appearance. Unsurprisingly it is the first single. Mirror successfully continues this soulful take on acoustic traits, as does the lyrically charming Paper Heart: “And it’s you I blame / when I crash paper planes”. Will Power echoes the lilt of their 2001 hit Underdog (Save Me), with clever guitar work elevating it above the rest of the album, which lurches in a worrying manner towards nondescript filler.
It is the underwritten Embryos that fumbles the baton; it talks of “breathing underwater”, but is so dreary you wish its makers would try it. Radio Silence finally gives up its search for a tune to ‘rock out’, as is their occasional wont when playing live. That can work in the environment of a gig, but here it jars, unsettling like a brick dropped in still water. Back to basics is their aim, although fellow Londoners Hot Chip recently achieved similar simplicity, with greater success.
There is a subtle defiance at the heart of the final highlight, the tuneful Never Stops, but listeners failing to reach the album-closing title-track are not missing out. So slight it disappears, it unfortunately underlines the overwhelming sense that less is not always more. Here, less is less.