For whatever reason – petty threats of lawsuit, I’d guess – the British band Brakes is technically known as Brakesbrakesbrakes in the United States. So if you, like me before very recently, are an American who has never heard of Brakes before, just triple-down on that title.
The important thing is that their third album, Touchdown, is one of the most immediately endearing new rock records I’ve come across in a very long while. Frontman Eamon Hamilton served as British Sea Power’s touring keyboardist until 2006, so it is not surprising that the two groups often sound alike. Like BSP, Brakes aren’t afraid to write fast, loud, and brazenly accessible guitar rock. But, songs such as “How Will I Ever Find My Way Home?” and “Atom” aside, Brakes is much more straightforward in their songwriting. Songs such as opener “Two Shocks” and “Don’t Take Me to Space (Man)” rock just as hard as anything on Do You Like Rock Music? – but they’re shorter, punchier, and free of the exhaustion many felt by the end of BSP’s 2008 disc; in fact, the best thing about Touchdown is that its melodies are so catchy, the songwriting is so tight and varied,
I find myself continuously wanting more. Maybe it’s because, in a good way, the band can’t stay still – some songs here are pensive, feedback-drenched ballads, others are relentless punk freakouts à la Mclusky; on the surprisingly enjoyable “Eternal Return,” they even pull off a sort of brit-pop honky tonk. What they do best, though, is sound like most of my favorite rock bands from the late 80s and early 90s: Yo La Tengo, Oasis, the La’s, Lemonheads and, most of all, Pixies.
Besides the 1-2 opening combination of “Two Shocks,” and “Don’t Take Me…,” the band most brilliantly recaptures the aggressive, quirky and thoroughly melodic aesthetic of that Cobain era with “Crush On You.” Through repetition of a reliably chunky and muted barre-chord riff, Hamilton shares a very Malkmus-like list of random names, objects and phrases before being overtaken by a killer fuzzy guitar riff that’s vintage Breeders. But although Brakes have 1991 down perfect, Touchdown is enjoyable no matter which genre-tag is most applicable – even the relative misstep “Ancient Mysteries,” with its forced sing-along fairy tale of teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse, is salvaged by another irresistible melody.
Give this record a listen – I’m sure that by the time you hit the lovely, yet painful drone of “Oh! Forever”, you’ll agree that if any band in 2009 deserves to take a leap in popularity, it’s Brakes. Brakesbrakesbrakes, too.