Beauty blossoms in fine new songs of a band driving out of the wilderness
Calling their debut album The Optimist has turned out to be something of a life statement for the much under-rated Turin Brakes. A decade ago the lush, acoustic, harmony-rich, bluesy folk rock conjured up by childhood South London friends Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian seemed destined to be as commercially successful as contemporaries Coldplay.
With a Mercury Music Prize nomination for the first LP and a high chart placing for plugged-in second LP Ether Songs, their tour schedules embraced venues like Brixton Academy – where they had long dreamed of playing – and the main stages of every major festival.
If all else failed to reach your radar, then their driving, strummy 2002 single Pain Killer (Summer Rain) is probably buried in your memory banks somewhere. And then their predicted megastardom drifted out of reach on the about-turn of record company executives...
Roll forward to 2013 and it's clear that they are the ones that got away, but the fully-grown Turin Brakes aren't bitter about the honest and dogged path they've actually taken.
"We've had our fair share," says Olly.
More importantly, they are by no means finished making excellent music, in a quietly optimistic fashion, some may say.
Their new long player We Were Here, released on the independent and discerning Cooking Vinyl label, is the kind of addictive slow-burner that etches into your soul. It's filled with thoughtful, moving and uplifting songs, defined by Olly's warm tenor vocals, embellished by plentiful harmonies and beautiful guitar riffs and melodies, both acoustic and electric.
There are some psychedelic, Americana, soul, prog-rock and jazzy elements in there too, shades of everyone from Pink Floyd to Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel. Its appeal blossoms on each hearing.
Olly is rather pleased it too.
"Basically most people lost track of us once we'd finished our deal with EMI. They were a major label with big budgets. Being on an indie label is very good for the music, but not for the profile," he observes. "Unless you are in everyone's face the whole time, there's plenty of music out there for people to be swayed by.
"We have been quietly and steadfastly making our way back into people's hearts and minds; we are just making sure that the music we put out there is as good as it possibly can be. Nobody will give it a second of their time if it's not good."
He says its themes come from the same brain as ever, but coloured by the maturity of parenthood and the knowledge that being in it for the long haul can be a joyful experience.
"It has classic Turin Brakes themes like isolation and paranoia – the negative parts of being a human, but explored in a way that is positive," he says. "The way I look at life in terms of songwriting is that it's unnecessarily harsh and quite dark; it creates tension when you are always looking to make something beautiful and meaningful out of the loneliness of the human condition.
"I wouldn't want anyone to be depressed by it. The best reaction we could have to Turin Brakes' music is that people use it like a friend who helps give them a bit of stability.
"I suppose when I write I am trying to communicate with like-minded people in some way... I can't really explain it."
Writing the songs was, for the first time, a collaborative affair, with the whole band – including long time collaborators and live band members Rob Allum and Eddie Myer – involved from the start.
If the album is a solid representation of where they stand now, it is on stage where their concoctions really shine – as will doubtless become evident as they play 22 dates across the UK, starting with a show at Exeter's Phoenix on October 27.
Support comes from ethereal alt folk singer songwriter Kevin Pearce.