Review: The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know
Published on February 19th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The buzz… Kilsyth rockers rope in Screamdelica catalyst Andrew Weatherall for third album on Fat Cat Records, home also to Sigur Rós, Animal Collective and No Age. In November, singer James Graham told Rocksucker…
“We have introduced some new elements into the band’s sound but ultimately No One Can Ever Know still sounds like The Twilight Sad. My approach wasn’t any different to the last two records when it came to my melodies and lyrics. I found what I wanted to write about and focused in on that. When it came to the music, we wanted a much harsher, colder, motorik, slightly militant feel. We thought it would be best to get outside our comfort zone to help us not to fall back into repeating what we’ve done previously and be a lot more spontaneous, so that’s why we moved to London for a month. We recorded in a studio called the Pool and got Andrew Weatherall on board to bounce ideas off and to basically reassure us of the direction we were progressing in.
“We borrowed vintage, analogue synths from both Tape Studio in Edinburgh and Ben Hillier, which became the core sounds on the album after endless experimenting. The drums were also recorded separately, which allowed us to easily manipulate, sample etc. The guitars are also much more reminiscent of maybe John McGeogh or Keith Levene, instead of the ‘wall of sound’ noise from the first records.”
Sounds like… The Twilight Sad icier and bleaker than they’ve ever sounded before, largely shorn of the thrilling squalls of distortion that characterised previous releases, but the recipients in exchange of an intense electronic consistency – thanks in no small part to Mr Weatherall, no doubt – that houses Graham’s ‘Morissey after witnessing a murder’ vocals in really quite compelling fashion.
Jerky opener “Alphabet” manages somehow to sound at once both sparse and lush, Graham’s doom-laden croon intoning “We were just across the road” with morbid ruefulness before erupting stirringly into the chorus refrain of “So sick to death of the sight of you now/Safe to say I’ve never wanted you more”. Synths are dominant here, a three-way meeting of chiming, glowy things, buzzing bass and a felty lead lick only conceding any ground to guitar towards the song’s end. Thusly is the pecking order established, not to mention the album’s acute signature sound.
The claustrophobic air of menace and guilt doesn’t let up, “Dead City” roaring in on a wave of distortion and softly pummelling (if such can exist) synths, an overdriven bass making both mix and listener its bitch, before “Sick” furthers the gloomy elegance with a pairing of guitar and drum machine that could be Mogwai gifting a riff to Kid A.
“Kill It in the Morning”
“Don’t Move” brings back those chiming, glowy synths, which by now sound as eerie an evocation of distorted childhood memories as prime Boards of Canada, a vibe also posited on “Nil” (“’Is that you, son?’ is what you used to say”), perhaps the album’s most disturbing song with other such lyrical vignettes as “I remember that day, it was our last”, “If you’d been there, seen her flat in the ground”, “No answer when you rolled her over” and “We all know whose fault it was”. The way it suddenly acquires a sinister gallop out of sparse intensity reminds of “I Spy” by Pulp, but whereas Jarvis Cocker crackled with unhinged lasciviousness, Graham sounds fit for an Edgar Allan Poe tale.
The album ends with two singles, “Another Bed” making an assured grasp for ‘standout’ status by dint of a balefully rendered (and arguably all too rare) major chord key change, while “Kill It in the Morning” brings the curtain down on a dark disco-grunge note, a synth string leading it menacingly, enthrallingly astray.
In short…The set-up may be tweaked, but this is still very much The Twilight Sad. Nevertheless, No One Can Ever Know succeeds in cultivating a distinctive sound for itself, one which at its sharpest is haunting and moving, but it’s not an easy listen and certainly not something for all occasions. To be savoured in isolation.
Kind of like a cross between… Nine Inch Nails and Arab Strap, with dashes of The Cooper Temple Clause – Kick Up the Fire and Let the Flames Break Loose