Review Summary: A stunning debut, only let down by the fact that I cannot make love to a disc.
Some bands wear their hearts on their sleeves, and that's fine. Some bands like to muddle their lyrics up so as to make them less personal and, ergo, easier to put out there to the scrutiny (and possible aggression) of the general music-buying populace. The Twilight Sad, a shoegaze/post-rock group from Kilsyth, near Glasgow, are very interesting in this regards in that the lyrics are always intense, half-sung, half-roared affairs, but the meaning isn't always readily applicable. From just the earnestness of the words and the manner in which they are delivered, it is abundantly clear that they mean a great deal to their vocalist, James Graham.
The music is the perfect twin of the lyrics - dreamy block of keyboard-induced white noise, stellar bursts of guitar majesty, and fierce and atmospheric drums. The album kicks off with "Cold Days From The Bird House", the very definition of 'well-built'; We hear it being constructed from nothing but rough ambient noises, and a beautiful acoustic guitar passage, eventually being joined with some out-of-this-world drums, absolutely working overtime, and the truly, truly wonderous shoegaze passage rears it's gorgeous wee head at around the halfway mark, and then you know. You just KNOW: Special band, special album. The lyrics from "Cold Days.." paint a picture at once both vague and vivid, although most definitely situated in an environment of longing and regret,
with ruined plans
with ruined plans
And so you make it your own
But this is where your arm can't go
You make it your own"
All sung in James's customary Scottish burr, seeming more like a storm given voice than a man feeling bad for himself. He's simply telling how he feels. And when the utterly heart-rendering, melodically-rich call of, "And your red sky at night won't follow me, it won't follow me now", reaches your ears, you'll be left gobsmacked.
Another track rich in musical and lyrical layers in which to lose yourself is, "That Summer, At Home I had Become The Invisible Boy". The opening keyboard/guitars sound submerged under water, all echoes and nuances, until a huge, precise, almost-martial drumbeat enters the fold, taking charge. I always found it very interesting how James chose the age for the titular "Invisible Boy", during the song to be 14, rather than the more common 16. Although, upon thinking about it, even though 16 is the time normally associated with great changes both physical and mental, 14 is when we really first begin to see these, and the lyrics back this theory up:
"I'm 14, and you know,
That I'm looking the wrong way
And is the past outside
Or in this lovely home
A strong father figure
And with a heart of gold
A loving mother, a loving mother
They're standing outside
And they're looking in."
The guitars in this track are bigger, more effect-laden than "Cold Days," and also a lot more easier of hearing, coming in at the forefront in a glorious segment of noise and feedback strewn all over the music pallete, and hearing James scream his throat out to tell us, "The cunt sits at his desk, and he's plotting away", is nothing but genius: a pure, unbriddled moment of all the different aspects of songwriting and musicianship coming together to form a much greater whole.
Some of the lyrics are truly captivating in their simplicity and effectiveness, some of which include this snippets:
"Comments and memories attached
And when there's no one there,
But the legs are open
And I'm blind.
So why can't you come around,
And why can't you watch the ground
And your green eyes turn to blue,
You're always, you're always,
Fishing for the truth."
("I'm Taking The Train Home")
The culmination of lyrical simplicity and creative, thought-provoking imagery comes in "Last Year's Rain Didn't Fall Quite So Hard", with James informing us in a child-like melody amongst a haze of nostalgic keyboard noise, "She sings with a hole in her skin,
I only want to say good-bye". This could mean anything, but nothing is readily given away (a trait with a lot of Twilight Sad lyrics), always keeping you thinking, looking for the meaning.
The Twilight Sad's best effort at marrying spectacular, open lyrics to vast, chaotic music must undoubtedly come with "And She Would Darken The Memory Of Youth", the lyrics are an anthemic chant, a rousing demand for change
"And head up dear, you're shallow and blind
And head up dear, the rabbit might die
Because I'm putting the boot in tonight
..Friendly faces with put-on smiles,
a drunken mind-game passed.
Because I'm putting the boot in tonight."
The drums fade in from a cacophony of maze-like keyboard effects, playing a fast, complex beat over the most beautiful shoe-gaze guitar I've heard in recent memory, alternatively speeding up and opening up even more, threatening to envelope even the drums, before tightening back up and setting the scene for the lyrics. The vocals are discarded halfway through the song, leaving the latter half an instrumental beauty, all chimming guitar, bass highlighting and ennunciating, the drums never letting up for even a second.
It has, just now upon rereading my review, how purple-prose my descriptions and how pedantic and apparently-hyperbole-esque some of my praise may seem - this is not exaggeration, intentional or otherwise, this is the only way to properly describe how I feel about this album.
If you're looking for a lyrically-minimalist, musically and vocally-maximalist record with beauty around ever corner, this is for you.