January 18th 2019 sees the release of It Won/t Be Like This All The Time, the eagerly awaited new album by The Twilight Sad, and fortunately we don’t have to wait that long for what is already a contender for Album of the Year. Like all things The Twilight Sad the band refuse to stand still and continue to evolve. Don’t worry about the suggestions that they may have gone too mainstream though. This is bleak, dark, melancholic, depressing and beautiful. Once you immerse yourself in their music there really is no going back.
Their fifth studio album titled IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME is a personal affair. It’s brutal honesty acts as a cathartic tool and the message, as relayed in some pre-release interviews, is clear – enjoy the good times, endure the bad times as it won’t be like this all the time.
Lead singer James Graham has openly said he finds the whole writing process as way of therapy and with this album you get the staple diet of any Twilight Sad record - honesty, commitment, passion, openness, energy. My own life seems to have polarised that of James’ over the last few years – marriage, new life, death, sadness, joy. There’s a lot to take in and this record, as challenging as it is, is compelling and has it all. I can’t imagine how difficult it’s going to be performing this record live for James and the band but I know it’s going to be raw and ferocious as they are a band that wear their hearts on their sleeves. This probably explains why the forthcoming 3 date mini UK tour of Manchester, London and Glasgow has already sold out months in advance.
[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] is the opener and the Longcut-like dancey intro lulls into thinking there’s a happy song in the offing before we hear those immortal opening words “We’re hanging on by a thread” giving you an indication which road this record is taking. Brendan Smith’s heavy synths are prominent before the seismic unmistakable sound of Andy MacFarlane’s guitar cuts right through you like a stake to the heart. “A heavy heart hammered you down” shouts Graham in despair. The fragility enhanced further as he exclaims “And now all the cracks will start to show” before posing the question “Why can’t you remember me?” It’s taken three and a half minutes but the misery, sadness, sorrow and pain have already set in.
Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting opens with MacFarlane’s trusted thrashing guitar and Jonny Scott remorselessly attacks the drums with extra punch offering life support to the song. The synth layered texture swarms above making for a claustrophobic, cacophony of noise and with the underlying sound of Johnny Docherty’s thudding bass putting the boot in there’s enough to make the head hurt and think all sorts of sinister things. “Take good care of yourself, take good care of your friends” is the advice before the song takes a turn for the worse and swirls and descends into a story of betrayal and extreme violence. To some the lyrics may feel uncomfortable but it’s a frank and brutally honest approach and it works. “I caught you kissing on the backstairs….I saw you killing on the backstairs” screams James.
After the intensity and devastation of the previous track the band slow it down and move seamlessly on to the dreamy, shoegazy, melodic affair that is The Arbor. Already a firm crowd favourite live it sounds even better on record. There’s hopelessness, frailty and despair everywhere in this song. Starting off floating along the dreamy landscape it’s not long before dark clouds descend over the tremors of Docherty’s bassline as James’ vocal tos and fros in tandem with MacFarlane’s guitar as the pendulum of doom swings from pillar to post. Tortured, troubled and haunted ”Why did you leave in the night?” asks Graham before eerily denouncing “I watched you slowly slip away.”
VTr is a breathtaking 80s synth laden masterpiece complete with that motorik drumming again given it a frantic angsty krautrock feel. This melodic and chord driven tune with a trademark Twilight Sad huge chorus has taken on a whole new level live. Graham, getting pulled in all directions, screaming intensely “Running away doesn’t feel so bad“ before proclaiming “there’s a monster inside of you, someone that you never knew, someone that we didn’t choose, he won’t leave us alone, please don’t leave me alone, I don’t know who to trust, let me do my worst”. Desperation, anguish and confusion consume this tortured good soul.
As the story goes, given the working title VTr, James Graham was walking his wife to hospital as she was going into labour and as he looked down there was “VTR” spray painted on the concrete floor. A life affirming moment if ever there was one indeed yet there are two sides to the coin throughout the whole song. Possibly the most hopeful and beautiful of lyrics in “there’s no love too small” only to be counteracted with the quite devastating “I won’t be surprised if it kills us all”. Life/death, happiness/sadness, celebration/grief all manically intertwining the listener’s thoughts. These are the fine lines of being okay and not being okay.
The maudlin, keys-led, Sunday Day13 is a heart melting tear jerker of a song. This could be an uncomfortable listen but like all Twilight Sad songs it has a habit of challenging you, drawing you in and taking you down a dark path where sometimes you might not want to go but that flicker of light is too hard to resist. “It’s happened too many times, you hit me too many times…it won’t be like this all the time” strains Graham. A story of despair, torment, guilt, insecurity, forgiveness and never letting go despite it being time to “shoot the crow”. There’s hope…”Will you always be mine?” but also a sense of hopelessness all strung out against the backdrop of a stunning piano.
If you manage to survive Sunday Day13 then it’s likely the ultra-claustrophobic and bleak I/m Not Here [missing face] will push you over the edge into the abyss. This is as tense as it gets and when the tension is as taut as this then there’s going to be a release and you’re going to break. The Twilight Sad’s, or rather Andy MacFarlane’s, ability to produce a monstrous hook is more evident than ever in this song and it scythes you down before the bass bludgeons and the drums beat you to a pulp. Not content dealing with that sonic assault Brendan Smith’s incisive keys arrive on the scene to finish you off. A menacing James Graham exorcises the demons as he rampages though the song warning us “You’re too close for comfort” lashing out at everyone, everything, including himself. “I don’t want to be around you anymore… You don’t want to be around me anymore… I don’t want to be around me anymore”. Despairingly Graham repeatedly asks himself “Why do you do this to yourself?” seeking salvation and answers.
The Twilight Sad are loved with a cult-like fervour and Auge-Maschine opens briefly with a sound similar to that of an infamous Crystal Castles track (whose collaborator shall remain nameless for this piece) before Scott’s martial drumming clash with MacFarlane’s wailing, aching, straining guitar. ”I can’t believe you hurt me, I don’t where to go” cries a despondent Graham. There’s positivity in the song too as the enigmatic frontman hollers in that thick Scottish accent “You saved my life” repeating the statement to express his gratitude and get his point firmly across.
There’s a lot of mystery and misery that surrounds James Graham’s lyrics but to even attempt to speculate and interpret what James is thinking or experiencing would be churlish. Like anyone only that person knows exactly what is going on inside their head (sometimes it’s best not to know) although I make no apologies for making my own interpretations as I’m sure other people will do the same as part of their own cathartic process.
The mood doesn’t get any better as Graham pours his heart out on Keep It All to Myself. The intro is dramatic and James with “too many feelings” tackles the emotional insecurities and self-doubt we all suffer at some point but are just too scared to share. The low punches are relentless as James battles the emotional turmoil “hiding my face in my arms” with a quite stunning vocal.
While most bands / record companies concentrate on the opening three songs of their album to lure people in The Twilight Sad, not a conventional band, decide to leave us with three irresistible, mesmeric tracks. There isn’t a weak song on the album and amongst so many stand out tracks is the magnificent Girl Chewing Gum as the band dig deeper into their accustomed dark side. MacFarlane’s genius comes to the fore with his soaring, searing guitar complete with a beautiful hook. James’ lyrics touch on darker times “I’m leaving now I won’t see you again…put me in the ground” and he sounds incensed but also reflective “this is goodbye, I’m leaving my best behind”. The relentless bass and drums thud away hammering home at the listener’s fragile state of mind meaning there’s no let up in the intensity. “I’m leaving now, I won’t see you again.” This song will floor even the strongest.
As you drag yourself back to your feet Let/s Get Lost offers some respite albeit brief. The sweet sound of the opening synths lulls us into a false sense of security. “I’m losing, I’m losing you every day” whispers James with that beautiful lilt of his before the song explodes into life with Scott attacking the drums like his life depends on it. There’s a heartfelt plea amid the turmoil “I’m still yours you know” is the cry as the emotional weight of the whole song, the last year or even longer seems to have a stranglehold on James as he comes to accept “it’s just another heartache to me.”
Videograms is the final destination in the latest chapter of The Twilight Sad story. There’s another version already out in the public domain – an Andrew Weatherall remix that could almost be New Order. Here we have the album version and the intro sounds like it could be the modern day theme tune to cult classic Tales of the Unexpected complete with the most self-assured vocal on the album from Graham. A voice that can break your heart when angelic as this. Dare I say it but this is quite an upbeat number in terms of the hook/melody and synths but it’s in the lyrics where the darkness unravels to reveal the self-doubt, insecurities, paranoia, desolation and feeling of hopelessness. “I won’t keep all the hurt you gave to me” declares Graham before menacingly warning “so don’t start, don’t you start on me”. Your heart aches, it breaks and you can only take so much. This is gut-wrenching, torturous stuff. “Is it still me that you love?” he repeatedly asks seeking reassurances before trying to make sense of it all “and we drink to try to improve our mood, and we go to the places we never should” before rather sadly admitting ”I’m afraid to tell you when you’re wrong, ‘cos I’m not sure”.
I’m a big fan of the band, admittedly arriving a lot later to the party than many, and can unashamedly say I would find it hard to find much fault with them as a group (musically) or as people. They are an unassuming bunch who recognise that they need their fans just as much as their fans need them. It really is testament to The Twilight Sad that they have produced yet another magnificent, cohesive album. It will come as no surprise really to their hardcore fans who have seen them fight back from adversity and countless setbacks. Their hard work, dogged determination and true grit have allowed them to freely create the songs that they want to produce. Whether this work of art elevates them to the next level or not I’m not sure. They’re selling more tickets than ever before and have their sold-out-in-five minutes hometown Glasgow Barrowlands gig in March to raise a glass or two to their misery.
Excitement levels surrounding the release of this record are increasing and I can openly admit I welled up and shed a few tears on first listening to this new material. This band excite me like no other. They force you to ask questions about yourself and others. You feel every ounce of effort they have put into this latest chapter and this is precisely what only The Twilight Sad can do to me and many others. They have poured their heart and soul into this record and there’s nothing left to give. It won’t be like this all the time? I sincerely hope it is. They should be immensely proud of this record….I most certainly am.
The Twilight Sad's official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.
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