brakesbrakesbrakes: The Beatific Visions

[13 May 2007]

By Mark Szakonyi

From Dostoyevsky to barnyard stomps about spring chickens. Former British Sea Power mate Eamon Hamilton has come a long way from naval epics to the cow-punk cheekiness of brakesbrakesbrakes (known in the UK as simply Brakes). Judging from British Sea Power’s far-too-civil sophomore release, Open Season , Hamilton has found the right fit with what was once considered his side project. With The Beatific Visisons, brakesbrakesbrakes’ music has stripped off its experimental beginning and evolved into a fuller embrace of its alt-country leanings.

The band’s catchy but jerky blasts on their debut Give Blood were expected from Hamilton teaming up with the White brothers of the Electric Soft Parade. The Brighton-based rockers’ newest release has fleshed out the aching melodies only hinted at previously, and kept the laughable political punk-stabs. For instance, Eamon asks, “ Who won the war / Was it worth fighting for?” on “Porcupine Or Pineapple”. Consider it the UK cousin to the Flaming Lips’ recent attempt at global political analysis. Politics aside, this album, recorded in Nashville, places brakesbrakesbrakes among the freshest of recent UK exports, akin to the Libertines or Arctic Monkeys.

The churning guitar of lead track “Hold Me in River” rolls up the motivation just perfectly enough for Hamilton to recount heart resuscitation outside the walls of medicine. The band’s country appreciation first comes apparent in the finger-picking-crisp lament of “If I Should Die Tonight”. “Mobile Communication” gives Wilco’s foxtrot radio misgivings a run for their money, with an aching but still tongue-in-cheek ballad of the modern world. The old country appreciation is there, and so is Southern-pioneer rock, as seen also on “The Spring Chicken”, which works as a helpful tutorial to the dance craze that is far superior to its mainstream cousin, “The Chicken Dance”. Brakes’ current sound has been classified as insurgent country; however, the simplistic “Isabel” points more towards their melodic former touring partners, Belle and Sebastian.

Fans of Brakes’ previous rambunction in snippets rather than songs will most likely prefer the second half of the album, where it loses momentum, despite its abbreviated length. Although even now the band still tampers with a Neil Young-like buildup, on “Cease and Desist”. And it pays off. The low-fi country belts out with an immediacy that gives the biblical reinterpretation of a bar hole desperate energy. It’s not Milton, but the song’s lyrics “God came down and said ‘I’m fucking bored of it all’ / So he took a shot of whisky and shuffled his cards” hint at an early Nick Cave Old Testament ballad. Things take a rather poppy turn with “On Your Side”, which slips into the breezy façade, with lyrics that have an edge, of the Basement’s catalog. It all closes out with the melancholic “No Return”, which captures the often-confusing moment right before a relationship annulment is requested. Somehow a few blokes have imagined Elvis’s “Return to Sender” as if it was done before the King forgot about his Sun Records roots. 

As enjoyable as The Beatific Visions is, there lingers doubts whether the third album will be the band’s true sophomore letdown. Where does a band go when it faces the paradox of reaching a haunting sound but losing its original momentum? Fortunately, this album has enough catchiness and sadness to made it a repeat lesson well until their future sound is revealed. There is still time to make “The Chicken Dance” rival “The Twist”, or if not, certainly “The Mashed Potato”.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/brakesbrakesbrakes-the-beatific-visions/