The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know
I have to confess that I am a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Scottish musicians and bands. My fascination with all things Scottish began with Fish and Marillion (and Fish solo) in my teens, then bands like Teenage Fanclub in my early adult years, and now, deep in middle age (kind of) I’ve discovered bands like What the Blood Revealed, Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and the subject of this review, The Twilight Sad. Their new album, ‘No One Can Ever Know’, marks a dramatic departure from the previous albums in more ways than one. Gone are the expansive, growing and building-to-climax numbers, layered soundscapes complete with squeeze box, fiddle and acoustic guitar. To quote James Graham (lead singer), ‘The wall of sound is kinda gone…’ The tempo of the songs also sometimes seems faster than what we heard on previous albums, although not upbeat or lighter in subject matter by any stretch.
Based on comments I’ve read (on the sites that are streaming the album), this shift is going to be off-putting for at least some fans of the ‘old’ sound. For me, this is an example of ‘what’s old is new again’, in that the new sound incorporates a lot of early 1980’s, synth-driven musical elements (think British New Wave, Depeche Mode, Ultravox) and even echoes of krautrock and industrial. Having grown up in that era, I feel a certain nostalgia but also recognize that The Twilight Sad are not riding on coattails, but rather blazing their own trail with some of these shared elements of the music along for the ride.
While a lot may have changed with The Twilight Sad on this album, it’s the things that have not changed, but are enhanced by this re-engineering of their sound, that make me continue to love this band. The vocals are still sung in full-on, emotionally-charged Scottish brogue; the lyrical content and mood of the music is still very dark and somewhat shrouded in mystery. The musicianship is excellent, still, across the board. Although I will only touch on a few songs in detail, I find that the whole album flows from track to track in a manner consistent with their other releases.
Opening the album is ‘Alphabet’, the track that contains a synthy overture that immediately called to mind ‘Reap the Wild Wind’ by Ultravox, followed on by the excellent, urgent second track, ‘Dead City’. I especially like the drum beat on ‘Dead City’, which is actually super-catchy, and the vocals really seem to be challenging to Graham, and that extra bit of push to get the higher note really makes the song bristle with feeling, in spite of the dominance of electronic instruments that make up the bulk of the song.
Track 5, ‘Nil’, is my early front runner for favorite song. It has all the new elements already discussed, but follows more closely the formula of songs on the older albums. It starts slow, with the electronic version of the once-ubiquitous acordian, and smolders on, steadily building in speed and adding layers. Once again, the vocals seem to be stretching and leaving the comfort zone a bit, wrenching and utterly human and organic.
Another ‘slow-burner’, to once again quote Graham, is track 7, ‘Not Sleeping’. The vocals seem farther back in the mix to start, adding a ghostly ethereal element; The vocals proceed to overlay one another, and the drums come in heavy, front and center, with the vocals staying peripheral, shrouded in longing or melancholic fog.
After many listens to ‘No One Can Ever Know’, and seeing some of the feedback on this new album, I can tell that this is a polarising and pivotal release for The Twilight Sad. I would definitely recommend this new album to anyone who, like me, revels in watching the evolution of a band in real-time; I think these fellows are poised to become big and soon. Then we, dear reader, will be able to say that ‘we knew them when…’ – and that’s what being a fanboy is all about!
Tags: 2012, album reviews, Jake Gillen, no one can ever know, the twilight sad