I've been listening to The Twilight Sad for many years. Prior to this release, I saw them play live in a local bar which I reviewed here. They have always been one of the alternative bands from Scotland who touch on shoegaze and eerie atmosphere's (For the bands debut anyway). As the band progressed, material turned towards indie rock and electronic. This album has those layered themes but it's very minimal. The focus is clearly on the synthesizers and the industrial song structures. They have taken influence from artists such as Can and Public Image Ltd which I couldn't hear on the first few listeners, but as time passed the darker and left field sounds stick out.
This is nothing like 'Cold Days From The Birdhouse'.. The complete energy and uplifting sounds have been taken away and replaced by dark synthesizer riffs and sparse drumming much alike that of Can. Those craving for another shoegaze album are in for a surprise because this album just doesn't come across as a guitar heavy album. The opening track 'Alphabet', begins with that characteristic synth line which sounds like it's been drawn from Radiohead's Kid A (Who took the sound from Paul Lansky). James Graham's vocals are hard to understand at first but you can pick out some words here and there. The jagged new wave-esque synths enter as the sound transforms in to a Tears For Fears mash-up with Brian Eno. it's a solid opener and showcases some strong vocal delivery and keyboard work which is the true focus on this album.
It's not long before the heavy material enters. looping guitars and bass arpeggio's enter on the following track 'Dead City'. The gloomy structure allows the drumming to sound hard hitting and industrial with a lack of studio effects. The vocals sit perfectly on top of this track, like Humpty Dumpty. Then obviously.. He falls and the vocals get mush louder, sparse and stylistic. James Graham has an exquisite vocal style and his authentic Scottish accent is welcomed.
'Sick' sounds remarkably like Radiohead's '2+2 = 5'.. it just does. Radiohead have that clarity and outrageous ability to transform tracks as they do in 2+2 = 5. The Twilight Sad add reverb and Kraftwerk-esque drum beats to create an electronic track with questionable lyrical theme and effect. "You ride my time, I'll never go with you tonight. Until the party ends, until the part when we retire", this one line sticks in my mind as the track ascends in to unexplored territory. The final minute has brilliant right sided synth work and a repeated refrain of the lyric quoted above.
I'm not going to write about post-punk (...I just did) or any revival bands out there because I don't think it's necessary here. Some reviews have mentioned The Twilight Sad as being a 'revival' band, which I think is total rubbish. 'Don't Move' is much calmer and straight forward as a track. The sounds are much alike the previous tracks except the dynamics are much poorer here and the synths sound a little to out there. It's a withdrawn sound and quite monotonous, alike the following track 'Nil'. This also has a straight forward synth three note riff which is repeated throughout the track. The monotonous vocal only lasts for a few minutes before the foggy atmosphere takes aim. The lyrical repeat of "Content in your ways", rings out as the drumming becomes Nine Inch Nails-esque and the bass forms a unitary indistinct sound. The tempo picks up and the uplifting synths enter on the right side as the left side features the opening riff played in a higher key.
'Don't Look At Me' is much faster and is the most like the early 2000's indie rock scene in the UK. The Twilight Sad have came at a delayed time here. This sound is welcomed by myself but as a band I can't see where the direction is going. Instead of going fully electronic and keeping this synthesizer attitude like M83, The Twilight Sad are sounding much more like Closer period Joy Division. That's the sound they want and that's the sound I'm hearing. 'Not Sleeping' shows the glum cityscape vibe which the music details. The vague atmosphere is highly imaginable as the lyrics touch upon a broken relationship? A lost love? The lyrics are hard to interprete and James Graham never reveals his meanings.
The next track is what the band refer to as a 'single. The speedy 'Another Bed' reminds me of Gary Numan with a hint of Vampire Rodents. The chorus is elevated with a standout synth riff and the analog sound is striking as the several layers encapsulate the sound and take it to a complete different level as James Graham gives a desperate vocal. The lighter verses are met with industrial beats and a very simplistic guitar riff which has been obscured by the mass amount of synths here. it's a strong track and paves the way for my personal favourite, 'Kill It In The Morning'. Opening descending guitar work and a heavy beat make for the introduction as the drum beat kicks in with the stylistic guitar riff. Further guitars enter as the synths draw out. The vocals stick out and are sounding strong as tiny guitar twinges echo around the right speaker. It's not long before distorted synthesizers kick in and the track grows in spirit and ends on a high. The drumming is simplistic and compact, the vocals are raised and the synthesizers sound bright. It's an uplifting ending and the album draws close to the nightmarish atmosphere.
It's what I was expecting to be honest. The band couldn't find a place within the shoegaze/alternative scene in the UK. They're critically acclaimed and have a spectacular cult fan base but this new direction was needed. They've mastered the atmosphere and the weaknesses and negatives all come from the bands inability to create something original. The imagery is sparse and the murky atmosphere is definitely a stand out. Some tracks were pretty straight forward and can be classed as album filler, but this is a piece of music intended for full album listening. I wouldn't skip a single track even if I think some are weaker than others, the mood contributes to the affect of listening to No One Can Ever Know.