Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Voices of boys were by the river-side. Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.

Occasionally, a band will explain its likeness to a peer or recent predecessor by noting similar influences, that the two bands made records with their heads in similar places – how many bands, after all, were influenced by the Beatles, Sex Pistols, or (as of the last few years) Gang of Four? But there’s also the infrequent group that doesn’t bother with any of that “skipping the middle man” nonsense, and rather than “draw influence” from music of thirty years ago, it shamelessly borrows whatever it likes from a more recent incarnation of an earlier sound. With their debut EP of late 2006, Glasgow’s Twilight Sad did just that, letting alone a would-be influence in U2’s The Joshua Tree, instead directly using what the Walkmen left them over the last five years.

Formed in Glasgow in late 2003, the Twilight Sad members would have had a year to absorb Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone before hitting a revelatory “god damn” and forming a band. You can’t hate them for it, either – of all the bands being emulated right now, not enough people are stealing from the Walkmen. They’re the musical equivalent of Christmas, absolutely brilliant with complex layers of piano and guitar, and though their albums are far more consistent than most could boast, their 2006 record, A Hundred Miles Off, received mixed reviews. So for this new group, the Twilight Sad, to enter in where the Walkmen left off was a perfectly timed move.

Signed to Fat Cat, the Twilight Sad just released a full-length record today and are touring in the US this spring as a continuation of the east coast shows they worked in last fall. That initial EP, a gorgeous collection of five songs, the last being a nine-minute round-up, greatly recalled the Walkmen’s blend of rhythmic post-punk, emotional Brit-style pop, and driving shoegaze. The likeness was particularly apparent when third track “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard,” all build and no release, transitioned into the humming ring of “And She Would Darken the Memory of Youth” – the latter of which was much to the effect of “No Christmas While I’m Talking” on 2004’s Bows and Arrows. Opener “But When She Left, Gone was the Glow” set the tone with accordion gloom and carried a deep drone into “That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy,” which heavily used bass and tom drums to bear a tiny bit of the Joshua Tree essence without sounding as dated.

But the Twilight Sad's EP wasn't a direct imitation, solid a job as they'd done, because they were set apart through James Graham’s thick Scottish accent, which gave the music an unpretentious, natural emotional state to slowly enjoy. And while they did grasp the bells and rings that the Walkmen used in albums past, they took them and played up the shoegaze factor until there was an impenetrable wall of guitar completely surrounding them. I'd labeled the self-titled debut one of 2006's most beautiful releases, and felt that the music world would be cold to leave the band’s first LP off its radar in the months to come.

As it stands, those upcoming months are now present and the LP's been on quite a few radars (and how, what with all those internet leaks). Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters is gorgeous as expected, an expanded version of the EP that came out last year. With sixty percent of the EP carried over onto the LP, though, there's a second chance to pick up on details I'd not previously noticed, like how the songs are predictable enough (yet satisfyingly so) that you can follow along the linear path of each track. Two and a half minutes into “And She Would Darken the Memory,” James Graham follows up a casual, matter-of-fact “head up, dear/you're shallow and blind” with a roughly shouted “head up, dear” as the rest of the band slowly builds up alongside him. He returns to a softer tone that's more in line with the song's initial vocal style, if not of a more confident volume and clarity in the song's second half, and in turn prompts the initial shoegaze mood of the song to burst into a confident post-rock wall that pushes ahead of him, shifting the song's lead from drums to voice to a battle of each instrument struggling to drown out the others in a fair, hard fight.

“Last Year's Rain Didn't Fall Quite So Hard” makes a solid selling point for stereo in the “stereo versus mono” argument, with its steady rhythms of guitar and drum competing in different tracks, thick Scottish voices traveling in layers both above and below. The sound's so clear that you can hear each drum being approached by hand and foot at once. And the accordion of “That Summer” does wonders for adding a frankly European feel to a song that any generic American post-rock band could otherwise attempt with some success.

But the songs not previously released, however fluid in their placement on this record, have a different sort of quality from the older ones. What I'd considered quite magical about the Twilight Sad was how they bury you deeply enough that if you forget to listen for each instrument, you'll forget that what you're listening to is created by instruments, that the songs don't simply exist on their own. One might blame the effect of the Twilight Sad's genre, but outside of this wall-of-sound approach and garnering the same effect in my mind has always been “London Calling,” a song that's rough and sharp but seems to exist outside of a world containing common guitars and basses. And that's it – I don't think of the Twilight Sad's tunneling songs as common, even if there's nothing entirely original about them. But these new songs have a slightly different quality, one that shows a more stable rock background and use of real guitars, real bass, real drums. The sound quality's a bit more hollow so that you can hear an echo wherever the band's recording, especially in “Mapped By What Surrounded Them,” where there's much less clarity in Graham's voice. And the guitars on “I Am Taking the Train Home” don't sound like ambiguous bells or guitars being rung so much as simple, live guitars, while the closing title track is enveloped in what may be a stir of cymbals, or the distortion of less than capable speakers, or hell, even wind (why not, aye?). But god damn, it's all gorgeous and fits together so well.

For once, an album's out in the US before the UK.
Listen to the songs, read more about the band, and purchase the album through Fat Cat Records.
They're also on a North American tour with Aereogramme and/or the Northern Chorus right now.

The Twilight Sad - And She Would Darken the Memory

1 comment:

Travis said...

i was supposed to see them with Aereogramme yesterday or the day before. But aereogramme had to cancel because of visa issues (?) i think so i didn't go to the show. It was a sad day.