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The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know

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Artist: The Twilight Sad

Album: No One Can Ever Know

Label: FatCat

Review date: Feb. 14, 2012

There’s a headlong rush to “Kill It in the Morning,” the second single from the Twilight Sad’s third full-length, a dry, clattery momentum in the guitar and cymbal-slashing drums. The band that used to build shimmering, gorgeous, barely moving walls of tone is in a hurry to get on now, pushing post-punk style through dystopian, jittery landscapes of romantic disconnection.

Much is the same on No One Can Ever Know, the bludgeoning wallop of Mark Devine’s drums, the fluttery, Mozzy excesses of James Graham’s singing style. Yet now, with bass player Craig Orzel gone, guitarist and songwriter Andy MacFarlane has made significant changes to the Scottish band’s sound, cutting the guitars to terse, rhythmic elements but softening the contours with lush Cure-like synthesizers. This third album has an altogether chillier, more propulsive vibe, as if the boy lost in bedroom reveries for Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters is now striding purposefully forward, gaze focused, end in view.

It’s not easy to be more post-punk without a bass player, MacFarlane compensates for the missing parts with grinding, low-end guitar riffs. In a couple of tracks, “Dead City” and “Another Bed,” the guitar sounds enough like a bass that you wonder whether he has switched instruments. In addition, sometimes, as on “Alphabet City,” he simulates the missing low-end with deep-toned, body-moving keyboard parts. He is aided, too, by Devine’s sturdy battering. Live, Devine is brutally, stomach-pummellingly loud (even more so when Graham goes back to lend an additional set of sticks), and this recording seems to reflect that dynamic more than previous ones.

Over this churning, roiling foundation, Graham sings much as he always has, in a voice that can be caressingly gentle one moment, strident and ringing the next. He sings quite well from a technical standpoint, hitting all the notes with a careless ease, introducing a bit of vibrato into the sustained tones. It’s not even wholly a rock voice. You get the impression that he could move to crooning or even musical theater without much difficulty. Yet, there’s an interesting contrast between the smoothness of his approach and the rough gutteralities of his Scottish accent. The trilled Rs, the constricted U-like Os, the curiously elongated and flattened A sounds all lend texture to Graham’s voice, even when they make it impossible to understand the lyrics.

About that: As before, Graham’s lyrics chop up and refract personal dissatisfactions into abstract bits and phrases. He has a way of repeating lines that seem inconsequential until they resonate, yet never exactly explains why they matter or what he’s talking about. The disconnect between the emotion in his singing style, and the clipped, non-linear dispassion in his lyrics has always been interesting, but seems even more pronounced this time. He writes, I think, from interior monologues, decipherable, really, only to him. Other people don’t figure very clearly in the songs. We know nothing about the girl in “Another Bed,” for instance, but her location (in “another bed,” that is).

No One Can Ever Know is quite a good album, not as fresh as the debut, but more complicated and premeditated. The Twilight Sad has very subtly reinvented itself this time, retaining its core elements of romantic angst and percussive battering, but adding a layer of machine-like drive and “Funeral Party”-esque synthetic drama. It’s a bold move but not a shocking one. Twilight Sad has become the rare band that knows how to change things up without losing itself.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of The Twilight Sad

Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

Forget the Night Ahead

Read More

View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

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