I have a secret favorite band.
They’re not only a secret because I never talk about them publicly. They’re also a secret because I don’t know a damn thing about them. I don’t know who they are, what they look like, why they’re a band, what their politics are, or when they’re putting their next album out. I’ve never seen them on tour and never watched a video of them. I don’t even know if they play live!
All I know is I love every song they have ever released.
It is highly unusual for me to fall madly in love with something and not want to hoover up every single facet of its existence. You’ve seen the name of this site, right? That’s what the “Crushing” part has always been about – what I’m crushing on, and what’s crushing me. When I have something crushing, I want perfect 100% knowledge of its complete breadth and depth.
Except this one band.
I don’t know anything about them, but I can tell you exactly how I found out about them.
Their song “Underdog (Save Me)” was on the Q Magazine’s “Q Best of 2001” sampler CD that came with their end of year issue that December. I almost certainly bought it at an airport magazine stand en route to stay at my grandmother’s condo in Florida for the holidays. That was pre-iTunes, so I probably listened to it once or twice on my CD Walkman and then shelved it’s paper sleeve alongside the rest of my compilation CDs and promptly forgot it existed.
Then, in 2003, iTunes came to Windows and I spent a month converting my massive CD collection to MP3, including that Q sampler on November 8th, 2003. And then I didn’t listen to it for another year, until I bought my first iPod for my solo trip to California to hang out with Laura and Sara.
Clearly I was working my way through a playlist of unheard songs while on my trip, because several other tunes from that sampler have their first (and only) plays in that period. And then, the very day I returned to Philly, I added two Turin Brakes records to my collection. I might’ve even bought them at the historic Amoeba Music in Los Angeles!
Why? What was so special about “Underdog (Save Me)” that made me so eager to hear more of this band?
I can tell exactly why: they were the first new band I ever heard that entirely reminded me of myself.
First, the arrangement. This was Q’s concept of “Best” and it sounded a lot like the music I wrote and played, both by myself and with Gina. It wasn’t big and electric. It was melodic and acoustic.
Second, the vocals. Who was this singer? What was their gender? I was obsessed with their reedy, androgynous mixed voice. Was it a man singing somewhat high or a woman singing a bit low? It reminded me a little bit of Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes. It was what I aspired to my voice sounding like.
Third, the lyrics. By this point, Gina and I were not yet formally Arcati Crisis, but we had made a regular habit of writing and arranging together. My songs were the typical songs anyone would write – love songs and kiss-off songs. But, Gina’s songs seemed to exist in a shared universe of apocalyptic dystopia with tinges of the fantastic. I hadn’t ever heard anyone write like that aside from heavy metal bands, or whatever we’d call Rush. Except… this “Turin Brakes” song sounded just like Gina.
Two black lines streaming out like a guidance line.
Put one foot on the road now where the cyborgs are driving,
With the WD-40 in their veins the screeching little brakes complain.
What the hell did that all mean?! Why were there cyborgs driving? How amazing was that image about them having WD-40 in their veins? And, yet, the chorus was something more like what I would write – self-deprecating and wistful, with my personal favorite “on the shelf” metaphor that I’ve used countless times.
Oh please save me, save me from myself.
I can’t be the only one stuck on the shelf.
You said you’d always fall for the underdog.
I had no reason to think every Turin Brakes song would follow this same formula, but I was curious to find out.
Broadly, it turns out that they do. They are almost always semi-acoustic. They almost always sound androgynous. And, there is often some little hint of something heightened or fantastical in the way they describe the world.
I’ve bought eight full-length Turin Brakes records since hearing “Underdog (Save Me” all those years ago, plus many singles, EPs, and unplugged releases. I love every one. They have one of the highest ratios of 4- and 5-star song ratings out of almost every artist in my catalogue.
I still don’t know a single thing about them, other than that my curiosity about their gender finally got the best of me and I’m pretty sure they are two men.
Other than that, and the glimpse of one of them in profile in the thumbnail above, they’re still a blank slate to me. All I know is from time to time I check to see if they have a new release, and if they do I buy it and love it.
Turin Brakes is my secret favorite band. They’re still a secret to me because I love their music so much that I like to peer into every one of their songs as if it is a mirror and see myself reflected. I feel like if I knew anything about them, it might ruin the spell.