Friday, May 8, 2009

Turin Brakes. The Optimist LP (Astralwerks, 2001)

"My friends are all junkies/ But they're still my friends."

A friend from London brought me this record, the debut from duo Turin Brakes, when he came to visit in 2003, breathlessly singing its praises. I have to admit, I was a bit wary at first. Olly Knights's and Gale Paridjanian's voices seemed a tad much - high, arch, overtly DQ, maybe even slightly grating. But after a couple of listens, and due to my friend's glowing reviews, this record grew on me like a fungus, and has since become an indispensable part of my record collection.

Turin Brakes are usually classified as folk pop or as part of the slowcore/sadcore genre. Any of the above are apt descriptions, as even their slowest/saddest works are pierced through with poppy, hummable hooks. The Optimist LP was released in 2001 to critical acclaim, though word on the street is that the supporting tour was unfortunately scratched due to 9/11. No matter; the band went on to release several other celebrated records and they continue to tour regularly (though they haven't been through the U.S. in some time).

The Optimist LP features several hits, though the first four songs are probably the best: "Feeling Oblivion," "Underdog (Save Me)," "Emergency 72," and "Future Boy." "Feeling Oblivion" starts the collection off with a yearning sigh and keening, nearly hypnotic vocals, begging over and over, "So don't leave me here on my own," and at this point you would feel guilty if you turned off the record and didn't give it a fighting chance.

"Underdog (Save Me)" follows with a driving beat that quickly becomes irresistible. By the end you'll be screaming "Save me!" right along with the track. Things quiet back down a bit for "Emergency 72," which seems to suggest our singers may literally die if they don't get a phone call from a crush. It's an adolescent sentiment paired with mature, jaded music, which is sort of what Turin Brakes does best.

"Future Boy" may be the best song on the record, a lilting, pouty trollop of a torch song. Any tune that can effectively work in such enticingly degenerate lyrics wins my immediate respect: "Syphilis is a bitch/ But contracting HIV is much worse." I mean, come on. And this song has the best sing-a-long ending on the record, to boot.

Again, Turin Brakes's sound may not be for everyone, but I urge you to give The Optimist LP a chance. It manages to feel lonely and cozy at the same time, a good long-distance nighttime driving or reading the paper on a lazy Sunday morning record. Especially for disease-riddled junkie wrecks chronically down in the mouth. -- Anneke Chy

Turin Brakes