The Twilight Sad make joyless music — like a cold, rainy dusk in Glasgow. It’s a lonesome sound, a reflective sound, with most of its expressiveness obscured by darkness. The group’s debut, Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters, was a strange synthesis of noisy shoegaze and meditative folk. It was quirky enough to earn the group status as critical darlings, if not the kind of universal appeal that their sound strives for. In their hands, the most adolescent subject matter was given the significance of a funeral.
On that end, The Twilight Sad hasn’t changed much. On the opening song from their second full-length album, Forget the Night Ahead, when singer James Graham shouts in his portentously thick Scottish accent, “There’s people downstairs,” this mundane image becomes transcendentally terrifying. The band’s grinding guitars and industrial drums blast away with no apologies, creating a bleak ambience to rival Graham’s own moroseness. The album showcases a refined Twilight Sad, refocusing some of their more superfluous pretensions, namely Graham’s cryptically over-the-top lyrics, and taking their bombastic sound to new levels of intensity.
The quiet folk of the debut is missing here, traded in for pure noise. The album opens with almost two minutes of guitars that sound like power saws grinding against metal pipes, with cold drums that sound like ancient machinery. From there, the cacophony only gains steam: “I Became a Prostitute” screams and moans with layers of sound; the instrumental “Scissors” sounds like a distant train running off its tracks; and “That Birthday Present” is uncharacteristically fast — almost punk-influenced — with weeping guitars, crashing cymbals, and Graham’s voice at its most indecipherable.
It’s an album uniformly filled with darkness -- an opaque, stygian listen, enjoyable in spite of itself. Unquestionably, The Twilight Sad takes itself seriously, but rather than create inflated egos, this works in their favor. The group’s seriousness makes up for their weaknesses. Graham’s lyrics, when you can understand them at least, are awkwardly enigmatic: In “The Room,” he cries, “Don’t tell anyone else you were seen in the cherry tree/ Look what you have done.” It’s a typical Graham couplet, but his delivery is so sincere, so heart-piercing that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what he means or even what he’s saying. You believe him anyway, especially with all those nightmarish guitars squealing away behind him. The music destroys its own pretensions.
From the outset, The Twilight Sad have been a splattering of influences, thrown against a white wall in a disorganized mess. There’s the epic reach of U2, the wall of sound of My Bloody Valentine, the slowness of Galaxie 500, and the chugging beat of The Velvet Underground. This is still the case, but what makes them interesting is how they combine these mostly unvaried influences into a more distinct sound. Graham’s voice is certainly the main component of this uniqueness. With his Scottish slur, frighteningly powerful on this album, his vocals become merely another instrument in the mix adding to the noise. It’s the loudest instrument, confining all other noise beneath it, towering over the rest of the music. It’s easy to dismiss the Scottish accent as a schtick, a mere tactic to separate The Twilight Sad from the rest of their reverb-drenched, angst-ridden peers. But that voice has range and, more importantly, carries a real theatrical punch, giving the group’s dramatic sound added impact.
Still, The Twilight Sad’s softer moments are missed here. That delicate accordion from the debut is replaced with more guitars and delay pedals, but they don’t make up for the lack. The massive sound the band has created on this album drags by the end, nearly collapsing under the weight of its own power. The acoustic slide guitar that opened Fourteen Autumns could have broken up some of this monotony. But it's powerful monotony. It begs you to listen to it.
1. Reflection Of The Television
2. I Became A Prostitute
3. Seven Years of Letters
4. Made To Disappear
6. The Room
7. That Birthday Present
8. Floorboards Under The Bed
10. The Neighbours Can't Breathe
11. At The Burnside