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Artist: Turin Brakes
Label: Source
Release Date: 03 March 2003

Track listing

  1. Blue Hour
  2. Average Man
  3. Long Distance
  4. Self Help
  5. Falling Down
  6. Stone Thrown
  7. Clear Blue Air
  8. Pain Killer
  9. Full of Stars
  10. Panic Attack
  11. Little Brother
  12. Rain City

Ether Song is the second album from British duo Ollie Knights and Gale Paridjanian. It is the follow-up to the much lauded and surprisingly successful The Optimist, released in 2001.

Where The Optimist was quiet and introverted, almost subliminal, a breeze whispering through your speakers, Ether Song is a louder, more confident set, whipping through the air at you as you listen. Recorded in 2 weeks at The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, with Tony Hoffer at the production desk, it's the sound of the fury that was straining under The Optimist's surface, unleashing itself through 12 tracks describing worlds of little cheer, but even less self-pity.

But despite the beefed-up instrumentation, and extra beats per minute, the sound is still very much Turin Brakes. There's no way you could listen to both albums and not spot the similarities, whether it's Knights' carefully delivered lyrics and vocal style, the harmonies, the symbols and motifs, or the constant strike of the acoustic guitars driving each melody. Some folks say it isn't as good, all this loudness, that Turin Brakes were supposed to be the kings of New Acoustic, whatever in the name of Coldplay that's supposed to mean, and now they've gone and thrown it all away by heading to America and getting sunstroke. But what if Ether Song had been The Optimist Part II. How smug all the critics would have been then, if it turned out Turin Brakes only had one speed, at most.

Thank god they don't then. Even so, they've had the daunting task of having to match the heights reached in places by the Optimist: Mind Over Money, The State of Things, or Underdog (Save Me) with its unbearably gorgeous guitar solo. So how does Ether Song stack up? Well, let's have a quick flick through it, shall we?

Blue Hour sets us up for what's to come. In one ear, the acoustic, in the other, the elctric. And somewhere in the middle, every word and syllable painstakingly called out by Knights, before Average Man takes us on further, building on the hooks and melodies from Blue Hour.

The next two tracks, Long Distance and Self Help tread similar paths to each other. Long distance, the first single released from Ether Song, is a younger sibling for Mind Over Money, a reflective opening shattered by a maelstrom chorus, dripping with anguished pain - "I let somebody get under my skin / Long distance losing is all that I'd seen" - that rips through your heart and soul, determined to bring down anything in its path. Self Help is closer to The State of Things. Musically, that is. Lyrically, it's a lonely path ("I've found myself deep down in the dirt / Got to get myself to my feet yeah").

From getting up to Falling down, which is probably about something, I'm sure. Sweet lyrics - "You burn so slow, you burn the way every candle wants to when you dance" - overlay something Beck left lying around on the studio floor while recording Sea Change. Lovely indeed.

On Stone Thrown, Paridjanian treats us to some slide-guitar, while Knights has a go at sounding happy, before losing the plot completely in the second verse ("Your love was just a fucking game"), and a cheeky studio monkey seems to have edited in the middle eight from a different song ALTOGETHER, but we get a nice little guitar solo towards the end, so partial credit is awarded.

Clear Blue Air was written and recorded by numbers, but don't worry unduly, it's really only a filler to tease you while you wait for the album's second single, and the crowning glory that is Pain Killer. It's raining yet again in a Turin Brakes song, but don't it make ya feel good? Altogether now: "Summer rain dripping down your face again / Summer rain praying someone feels the same".

How do you follow that? Apparently with a blissed-out, laid back track, the least Turin Brakes-esque song to date. Sounds like a reworked Mock Turtles b-side, to be honest. My Mum would probably like this. I wouldn't make her listen to Panic Attack, though. Well, if I can't even be bothered with its progressive nonsense, why should she?

Little Brother, thank god, is a lot better. It's fucking uncheery, mind, but as rawkish as Turin Brakes have ever threatened to sound, and Radiohead fans might like to contemplate how much worse this song would sound with Thom Yorke mumbling vaguely in the place of Knights' fiery, crisp, style.

Rain City could well be an Optimist out-take, with its rainclouds, sense of defeat, and quiet misery, and marks a great come down to finish Ether Song off with. That is if you don't count the hidden track (cue to around the 8:00 mark on Rain City to find it), which is actually about as good as these things get. Minus points for not putting it on the album proper, but bonus points for including it at all. Still, why hide away something so marvellous? Were they not sure how good it is, or did it just not fit in with the rest of the album? Answers on a postcard, please...

The best is yet to come from Turin Brakes, but until it arrives, this will do just fine.

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