This is a review for Brakes’ debut album that I wrote back in late 2005. You can listen to a track from the album below.
Need a 3-minute break from the rubbish that is modern life? Then, Brakes could be just the tonic for you. This is a band made up from a couple of defectors from the Electric Soft Parade (Tom & Alex White), a Tenderfoot (Marc Beatty) on leave and a splitter from British Sea Power (Eamon Hamilton) just shooting the breeze. With such gifted raw ingredients the resulting output was always going to be interesting but ‘Give Blood’ surpasses all expectations through a rattling joie-de-vivre mixed with a refusal to put up with contemporary annoyances. Don’t be put off by the 16 tracks; you won’t have to clutch your thinking cap like you would with a My Morning Jacket or Mew opus. Most of what Brakes dish up only hangs about for 2 minutes so if you don’t like the cut of their jib ya needn’t worry, as there’s another nugget revving up just around the corner. Besides, a couple of the tracks are merely snippets, which ensures this pleasurable delight is wrapped up after a mere half an hour.
‘Give Blood’ starts out in the strongest possible way with the first 5 tracks whizzing by at an alarming rate each firing off cheeky melodies like a machine gun spraying Wonka’s scrumdidlyumptious’s. ‘Ring A Ding Ding’ is typical of the fare on offer with its toxic concoction of fuzzy guitars and Eamon Hamilton’s quirky outpourings (‘Oh no, I keep on scratchin’ but it still won’t go’). It’s followed in quick succession by a quart of tunes that blaze an impressive trail in the shortest possible time. Despite the fact that Hamilton can come across as an easily pissed off chap (‘Hi How Are You’, ‘Pick Up The Phone’) you can’t help feeling that his frustration is one to snigger about when he’s not looking. There isn’t that many albums that are genuinely funny but ‘Give Blood’ throws out pithy lines with the same consistency as the elderly throw breadcrumbs in city parks. ‘Chasing girls and bailing hay’ is how he describes his life on the south coast and who can argue with him. ‘The Most Fun’ spews lines like ‘The most fun that I ever had was the night the gypsies came to town, lit up these streets like they’d never seen and never seen since’ underlining the sheer boredom of life in a provincial town.
‘Give Blood’ casts a wide net; for much of the album a change of tune means a change in direction. So ‘NY Pie’ reveals some honky tonk, ‘All Nite Disco Party’ is a Franz Ferdinand kind of dance floor stomp and ‘Fell In Love With Girl’ is new folk as practised by Bonnie Prince Billy. ‘I Can’t Stand To Stand Beside You’ reprises old style Idlewild with blistering guitar forages and uppity vocals. Right in the middle there is even a flourish that would give the late great Cable a run for their money. With so many disparate styles flying about it’s not surprising that the collective hit the bullseye more often than not. There are 2 undoubted peaks, however, where everything falls completely into place. ‘You’re So Pretty’ is so unimaginably quaint you will probably have to fight back the tears. Hamilton manages to pull off the most forlorn performance of the year and in the background floats the sort of riffs that Steven Malkmus was capable of in the mid-nineties. There is so much passion in the singers plea it’s hard to see how any girl could ever f**k him up. ‘What’s In It For Me’ is another classic; imagine the White Stripes with a couple of extra guitarists riding at breakneck speed in the back of a horse drawn trailer through the Wild West. Floor filler or floor killer this will be consigned to memory with giddy ease.
And when they don’t write the songs themselves they make some great choices on what to cover. ‘Jackson’ is presented in a way Johnny Cash would have approved of, just breath in that youthful vigour. ‘Sometimes Always’ is less successful but considering the original Jesus & Mary Chain/Hope Sandoval rendition is beyond reproach it’s gotta go down as a decent effort. ‘Heard About Your Band’ is as close as you can get to the Frames ‘Pavement Tune’, at least in the opening moments. Thankfully it takes on a life of its own down the track dissing the robotics of an ordinary Joe Soap as he steps on that drab career ladder. ‘Give Blood’ is such a delight it will put the groove back in your heart. Its wide horizons are neatly encapsulated in short sharp bursts the likes of which haven’t been seen since the death of punk. The album can be dissected and played at any point without losing any of the impact. It’s as if the band has been thriving for decades in a parallel universe and this is a collection of their greatest hits. In fact these Brakes are so effective you may have to periodically check for skids on your underclothing. KD
Brakes – What’s In It For Me?