I’ve been a little down lately. I’ve moved to a different state and back home again in less than a year. My new job is more difficult than I had imagined it would be; sometimes my hands get numb from stress. I work nights and weekends, so feelings of isolation abound. I’m living at home for the first time in four years. I’m not as close to God as I would like to be. I’m in debt. Largely, luxurious problems to have. Waaah. In this post-grad cloud, you’ll excuse me if I need some brooding music while I wallow in narcissistic self-pity.
In a lackluster week for new releases, the Twilight Sad fit the bill.
Think The Smiths. Think The Cure. Think Joy Division. This Scottish band is dark and ominous and buoyant and swelling in the tradition of some post-punk greats. “No One Can Ever Know,” the band’s third release, lives comfortably in that mournful corner of indie rock that Morrissey haunts.
So, while in a personal funk, with the problems of one’s early twenties seeming significant and great and terrible but being perhaps none of those things at all, the Twilight Sad’s passionate melancholy strikes a nerve. “No One Can Ever Know” is never a dirge, always carried by an undercurrent of gravitas. It’s music for navel-gazing dramatics.
“Alphabet” and “Dead City” burst open the album from the beginning, until “Sick” turns the dial back a bit and the album settles into a slower burn of simmering menace, not unlike Silversun Pickups or some more downtempo Muse numbers. The air of danger carries through on “Don’t Move,” which is the sonic equivalent of a heroin needle, with its nervous, risky uneasiness. “Nil,” on the other hand, dispenses with unease and plummets into appropriate sounds of, well, nihilism.
“Another Bed,” a tale of a lover gone away, takes “No One Can Ever Know” back up into more energetic territory and joins “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “Every Breath You Take” on my list of fun-obsessive-profoundly-creepy songs. As singer James Graham intones “I’ll find you” over and over again, you might look over your shoulder. Warning: This video is disturbing in a horror movie way. Not for the weak stomached.
The Twilight Sad is not merely a cheap Robert Smith imitation. Aesthetically, “No One Can Ever Know” asserts the band’s own flavor as much as it draws on its influences. The Internet is full of references to the Twilight Sad’s “wall of sound” quality, and it is true that your ears get a great workout (though I don’t think Phil Spector would enjoy them too much). There is no “backing” instrumentation on this album — every sound pulls its weight in a musical onslaught at the foreground, though the liberal use of industrial noise does stand out.
What really makes the Twilight Sad special, however, is Graham’s voice. His Scottish brogue is impenetrable at times, but it’s the engine that drives this album. A weaker vocalist would get lost in the dark, jagged alleyways of the album’s songs, but Graham’s aggressive, muscular voice carries the threatening sound deftly. At times, a hint of hardcore lingers in his braying.
There are times in your life when you do not want to lift yourself out of your petty doldrums, when sunny pop-punk grates and you’ve exhausted your tolerance for synths. I want to feel sad sometimes, so that I can get the sad out and make room for being grateful and content. Every now and then, you need a “No One Can Ever Know.”
(2) “Dead City”
(8) “Another Bed”