Wednesday 7 March 2012

The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know

Album review by James M

Expectations are a strange thing. Sometimes you hear about a new release and get so excited that in your head you’ve already given it a perfect 10. This was the case when I heard Kilsyth’s noisiest sons The Twilight Sad were releasing their 3rd album early this year. What came upon first listening was confusion and disappointment. Gone were the seismic waves that crushed the ears of the unsuspecting listener on their debut. No longer did the songs finally break out into their own unconventional world after lengthy introductions like its 2009 follow-up ‘Forget The Night Ahead’. Something felt missing. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that I am a big fan of The Twilight Sad. Live they’re a spectacular phenomenon that a simple MP3 or compact disc can’t compete with. That said, ‘Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters’ was one of 2007’s stand-out albums and showcased a band who weren’t afraid to combine the unlikely duo of raw, Scottish poetic imagery and enough feedback to make The Jesus And Mary Chain question themselves. It was with this that I decided first instincts are rarely right and that I should give it a few more listens.

Fittingly the record starts with a track called ‘Alphabet’. Everything needs a starting point of course and this is a band that have seen reviewers use every letter there is to describe their output. A haunting organ lays heavy over James Graham’s thick North Lanarkshire cry as he wails out how he’s “so sick to death of this, safe to say you never wanted more”. No doubt a tale of heart break rather than his reaction of hearing my initial feeling towards the record. ‘Dead City’ may well be the best example of the difference between this and their previous efforts. At 6 minutes and 25 seconds it’s the longest track on the album and with the volume well and truly up to 11 it has no shame in pacing itself along to the finish without a pause, whereas earlier albums would have generally seen Graham starting off alone, pouring his emotions purely into his lyrics before the rest of the band came in to slap him across the face and tell him to "man up". This record is full of tracks that hold no prisoners and certainly don’t give you enough time to draw breath. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is down to what side of the band you prefer. The album's two stand-out tracks are bang in the middle, a perfect centrepiece for what feels like it could be one merged track. ‘Nil’ could almost be a ballad for the first three minutes, a slight tap of a drum cymbal the only thing getting in the way of the band's softest moment to date. They don’t do things in the conventional way however, and it would be one bitter ballad with the glare of the organ once more leading the way to all things twisted. “I hated watching you grow old, I’m still sitting in the room where we left you to grow” we’re told in ‘Don’t Look At Me’. As with most of the stories you find hidden in the lyrical themes, we’re left to wonder if it’s fact or fiction. This isn’t a band who do a lot of talking to the media and are rarely found to share their ideals with any journalists. What you can be sure of is this is definitely bedtime reading and not for the faint hearted.

The Twilight Sad’s most deadly weapon, as I’ve previously alluded to, is the vocal ability of James Graham. Though at times it often grates if you’re unfamiliar with it, some might say he’s more a spoken word artist than a vocalist, those English cynics among us may even think he puts his voice on – no man can be that Scottish, surely? You really can’t get away from how different the band would sound without it. It’s left until the last track ‘Kill It In The Morning’, to truly appreciate it. The best elements of the band as a collective all merge to produce a stunningly bleak ending in which Graham clocks in overtime to outdo a distorted, bass-heavy finale. “It’s a shame she wanted more, only places that we couldn’t go. What more do you need to know?” is the last cry for the moment. What is at times a frustrating listen gets better when you accept that bands change and progress their sounds further. Not many last three albums these days and although it’s a bold, marginal change in direction, it’s one that in retrospect was probably needed. I don’t know what more she wanted, but I’m happy to admit my initial feelings were wrong and I’ve been taken in by The Twilight Sad once more.

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