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Every now and again, you come across a band whose sound is so simple and pure that you selfishly wish that no one else will discover them. Fame and fortune changes people, and I often find that as soon as they make it, many groups seem to drift away from what made them successful in the first place.
Fortunately, this does not appear to be the case with Turin Brakes, a band that I "discovered" quite by accident. My sister recently moved to Armenia to live and work there on a more or less permanent basis, and left me a large part of her sizeable CD collection. Poring through them for something new to listen to, I chanced upon Turin Brakes' Optimist album, and I have been hooked on their sound ever since.
I was delighted to find my sister had their entire back catalogue (not that there is that much of it) but even so, when I heard that they were releasing a "best of" compilation, I jumped at the chance to get it. Turin Brakes are more in tune with their fan base than most groups, and with "Bottled At Source: The Best of the Source Years" they have outdone themselves.
Not only have they pulled together their "greatest hits" with a 17-track CD, but they have also included a second, 17-track bonus disc of rare and previously unreleased material of excellent quality.
A BIT ABOUT THE BAND
The "folk duo" of Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian almost defy categorisation. Friends since childhood, this UK band out of Balham, South London have a unique sound built around acoustic guitars, simple instrumentation, outstanding, perceptive and moving lyrics and Knights' instantly recognisable voice. The band have stated, on record, that their enigmatic name is made up of two wholly unrelated words with no hidden meaning, as they hoped that "Turin Brakes" would eventually become associated only with their music.
Their career to date has seen them release a number of EP's and four studio albums ("The Optimist LP" in 2001, "Ether Song" in 2003, "JackInABox" in 2005 and "Dark on Fire" in 2007) as well as "Live at the Palladium", a live album released in 2005. Plans are afoot for a fifth studio release sometime in 2010. More info (including a full bio and discography) can be found on their official web site (www.turinbrakes.com).
"Bottled at Source" is their first compilation album and it hit the stores just last month (September 2009). As the title suggests, it contains material from their eight years with the Source record label and coincides with the tenth anniversary of their breakthrough single "The Door", which still remains one of their best and most endearing songs to date.
The double CD is available for £8.99 on Amazon.co.uk or can be downloaded for around a pound cheaper from a number of internet MP3 stores. The sleeve notes on the physical release contain notes and anecdotes about each of the songs featured on the first CD, but there are no accompanying lyrics.
The most successful track from their "Ether Song" album and their highest charting single (it reached No.5) this song is notable for the departure from an acoustic to a more electric sound. As such, there is a welcome sense of power and energy to it. With its soaring, driving chorus and earnest vocals, it isn't hard to see why this song charted so well. One of my favourite Turin Brakes tracks.
"Summer rain dripping down your face again. Summer rain, praying someone feels the same. Take the pain killer, cycle on your bicycle, leave all this misery behind.."
> Underdog (Save Me)
From their 2001 debut album "The Optimist LP", with its chugging guitar intro, this song gets your foot tapping even before your brain consciously engages with it. A great showcase for Olly Knights unique and endearing voice, for me this song epitomises what Turin Brakes are all about. It has a great folksy interlude that really engages the listener and leaves you wanting for more from the first few lines.
"Oh please save me, save me from myself, I can't be the only one stuck on the shelf. You said you'd always fall for the underdog..."
> Emergency 72
Also from "The Optimist LP" this is a slower, more thoughtful and introspective number about "the tension between love and reality and, oh, the morning after pill..." (the band's words, not mine...). The chorus, which is a constant repetition of the number "72" is strangely compelling and hypnotic. Great mood music.
"Well all my lust comes down to dust. Can't you see it crumbling? My hazy hill come down to rust, but you could call me, you know? You're pulling me out of this whirlpool, you're making me breathe again..."
> The Door
This is the song that started it all for Turin Brakes, and for me as a fan. I have listed it as one of my top 10 singles of all time and never get tired of listening to it. With it's simple melody and twanging guitar intro, it hooks you from the very start and never lets you go. The lyrics are captivating, atmospheric and engaging, with great use of alliteration ("Ain't no sense has no sense, it invents.") Olly's voice really reaches down into you and it feels like your heartstrings are being plucked in time to the music.
"Sun comes from behind, hurts my eyes. It dries my hair so nice. I watch the boiling sea meet the open sky, but my soul still feels like it's ice..."
> Fishing for a Dream
From 2005's "JackInABox", "Fishing for a Dream" is currently making the rounds in sampled form as a Kellogg's Special K advert. This is a cute, whimsical song that starts out simply and then gets a timely injection of pace and energy about a third of the way in. A feel good track and a real grower that is Turin Brakes at their creative best.
"Lose your heart, I lose my mind, we'll make quite a pair, dazzling all the time. Celebrity parties, the red carpet mile, nothing is too good there for my girl. All of this world, is gonna see you shine..."
THE BONUS CD
As if a seventeen track compilation of their best songs was not enough, the band have provided an intriguing second CD chock full of excellent additional material - some polished and some in a raw, unfinished state. Unlike my experience with other bands and albums with such material - this isn't some cheap throwaway effort at filler. It is clear that it is well thought out and thought through - it gives a very personal and intimate insight into their work and is a real treat for budding and established fans alike.
Highlights include demo versions of "Underdog" and "Mind Over Money" with just the guys, their acoustic guitars, a backing piano and not much else. The stripped down, almost "naked" production gives the songs earnestness and great, raw, emotional power. Fully realised tracks, such as "Atlas of the World" and "Capsule" are great additions to the Turin Brakes canon and are typical of their sound.
Live track "Asleep with the Fireflies", which was recorded on tour at the Palladium gives a great representation of their live sound, and has made me doubly determined to try and catch them on tour next time around. Also of note is the final track - a modern interpretation of the classic operatic number Nessun Dorma (made famous in contemporary times by Pavarotti) recorded at an Xfm session in London in September 2007, which showcases the fact that, despite being an acoustic folk band, these guys actually have a great vocal range.
Compilation albums will often have an "exclusive" track or two added to the track listing in order to make it worth buying for long-time fans. "Bottled at Source" is almost the antithesis of this. It could helpfully be described as a "raw and unplugged" album with a greatest hits CD attached.
This release is totally consistent with the fan-focussed ethos of the band. It has been a source of great irritation to them that their second album "Ether Song" was re-released in slightly altered formats (with bonus discs and track listings that varied from region to region) no less than four times by their label - which they saw as a shameless exploitation of their dedicated fan base, some of whom will buy almost anything.
As a greatest hits album, it's a timely reminder of the sheer volume of quality material released by a band that - happily for its established fans - continues to sail along just under the radar. For new fans, or those who are just curious, "Bottled at Source" is an excellent introduction to Turin Brakes unique sound. This is a talented band that deserves more recognition and attention, and as such, "Bottled at Source" comes (paradoxically) grudgingly and reluctantly but very highly recommended.
TRACK LISTING (CD1 Only)
2. Underdog (Save Me)
3. Emergency 72
4. Long Distance
5. The Door
6. 5 Mile (These Are The Days)
7. Feeling Oblivion
8. Average Man
9. Over and Over
10. Mind Over Money
11. Fishing for a Dream
12. Dark on Fire
13. Red Moon
14. Something In My Eye
16. Last Chance
17. Ether Song
© Hishyeness 2009
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Underdog (Save Me)
3 Emergency 72
4 Long Distance
5 The Door
6 5 Mile (These Are The Days)
7 Feeling Oblivion
8 Average Man
9 Over And Over
10 Mind Over Money (extended radio edit)
11 Fishing For A Dream
12 Dark On Fire
13 Red Moon
14 Something In My Eye
16 Last Chance
17 Ether Song
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Underdog (Sally) (demo) - Previously unreleased
2 From Balham To Brooklyn (live) - From the single 'Underdog (Save Me)'
3 Mind Over Money (demo) - Previously unreleased
4 Everybody Knows (7" version) - From the single 'Emergency 72'
5 Lost and Found (home recording) - From the single 'Long Distance'
6 Where's My Army (home recording) - From the single 'Painkiller'
7 So Long (LA Demo) - From the single 'Average Man'
8 Moonlight Mile - Previously only available on 'Late Night Tales', compiled by Turin Brakes
9 Atlas Of The World - From the single 'Fishing For A Dream'
10 Asleep With The Fireflies - Recorded live at The Palladium
11 Capsule - From the EP 'Something Out Of Nothing'
12 Love Is All You Deserve - From 'The Red Moon EP'
13 The Seagull - Previously unreleased
14 Time Machine - Previously unreleased
15 Cumulous Clouds - Previously unreleased
16 Rise - Previously unreleased
17 Nessun Dorma - XFM session, Sept 2007. Previously unreleased