Despite having the most unfortunate band name this side of !!!, Brakesbrakesbrakes (known as Brakes outside of America, and from hereafter in this review) have consistently proven themselves as perhaps the most rewarding band in Brit-pop’s current iteration. By refusing to become the umpteenth band trying to be the next U2 (or the next Oasis, or the next Libertines), Brakes are allowed to toss a lot of influences into the pot. They can sound like a country influenced bar band on one song, the only band that have ever claimed the Pixies as an influence that actually sound Pixies-esque on another and then sound like the Replacements playing the Ramones on another.
This collision of influences (and some would say lack of focus) has led to two pretty great records — 2005’s Give Blood and 2006’s The Beatific Visions — that have caught under-sized acclaim. Perhaps as a reaction to the claims of aimlessness, the Brighton band’s third album, the spotty and occasionally rewarding Touchdown, rounds off the group’s sharper edges, creating their most mediocre, and least all-around exciting, record.
Touchdown still features a handful of strong moments showing off what Brakes do best. Opener “Two Shocks” ambles with a palpable menace as lead singer Eamon Hamilton rasps intonations about World War 4 and a particularly fatal femme fatale. “Crush On You” avoids the curse of its pretty trite lyrics by having the best Pixies bass line since “Debaser,” and the rumbling ballad “Oh! Forever” builds like a forming tsunami, before it finally crashes down in layers of squalling feedback.
But there are fewer moments of reckless genre experiments on Touchdown than there were on past Brakes efforts, and when there are, they feel purposeful, like the band had some alt-country (or quick punk song) quota to fill. The alt-country rave up of “Eternal Return” is the album’s only foray into country, but it feels less inspired than the band’s previous energetic forays into country-inspired rock. The punk thrasher “Red Rag” has a dominating riff, but it too feels like its inclusion was necessary because past Brakes albums had similar songs.
The rest of the album falls into the more accessible end of the band’s spectrum; there’s a long stretch of flat tracks that sound like they could have come from the band members’ past projects (British Sea Power and Electric Soft Parade) instead of the shambolic points of origin Brakes typically flaunt on tape. The worst of these is “Don’t Take Me to Space (Man),” which wraps up an alien abduction fan fiction in music that sounds like it’s on loan from the View (the band).
The closest current comparison to Brakes there is in indie rock right now is the Hold Steady, another band known for fireworks-quality explosions of rock. Brakes aren’t on the Hold Steady’s plateau, but Touchdown, even through its less than stellar patches, continues the possibility that Brakes may have their own Boys and Girls in America in them.