Traditionally this is the part of the decade that finds us hungry for some fresh sounds. Right about now, we should be looking for a Nevermind or an Is This It to cleanse the palette and open a window into the immediate future. Unlike a decade earlier, when rap-metal was still a demon yet to be slain, 2010 is a particularly good time to be a music fan. This year, we’ve seen a deluge of strong releases across all genres that don’t show any sign of abating before year’s end. There’s no telling what sort of impact Twin Shadow’s Forget will have on an already crowded landscape. If there’s an album that stands a chance at rewriting the rule book one last time, however, it’s this one. With a steady gaze fixed on the 1980s, Twin Shadow cherry-picks key elements from the last four decades of popular music and compresses them into something that will likely sound exciting for as long as people continue to listen to music.
Twin Shadow is the moniker used by one George Lewis Jr., a Dominican-born, Florida-bred composer whose varied musical misadventures have already taken him around the globe and back. This reviewer first became aware of Lewis when he lived in Boston several lifetimes ago. Lewis quickly gained notoriety while playing in a punk band that could seamlessly spit out furious Fugazi-style anthems alongside three-part harmony Gospel. With his charismatic, razor-tongued stage presence and his intimidating musical vocabulary, Lewis built a congregation of wobbly-kneed devotees who were left at a loss when he split for Brooklyn and parts unknown back in 2006. Lewis would spend the next few years performing for European theater troupes and knocking out soul infused classic rock (think Otis Redding fronting Led Zeppelin). Somewhere along the line, the seeds for Twin Shadow were planted when Lewis presumably hibernated in a German hotel room, armed only with a drum machine and copies of Tears for Fears’ The Hurting and David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. A random set of circumstances led Lewis to Grizzly Bear bassist/producer Chris Taylor, who helped see the project to fruition (Forget will be the first full length released by Taylor’s Terrible Records imprint).
Forget might conclude with a repeated refrain of “This is everything I’m wanting to Forget”, yet the primary concern here is remembrances. With its repeated references to haunted seasonal romances and youthful indiscretions, the album is front-loaded with wistful nostalgia. Throughout, Lewis sings from the point of view of someone just outside of love who hasn’t quite decided whether or not to be bitter. While an unmoored keyboard melody quietly blows in like the first chilly breeze of the fall, Lewis begins the album whispering sweetly to a lover. On “Tyrant Destroyed”, he gently asks “If it wasn’t enough just to hear you speak, they had to give you lips like that?” before turning the tables and revealing himself to be the tormentor. He spends the next 10 finely etched songs on an Eternal Sunshine-like search through his own brain on which we’re more than happy to accompany him.
What sets the Twin Shadow project apart from any other indie pop buzz band creeping out of Williamsburg, aside from Lewis’ powerfully expressive singing, is its ability to turn something autobiographical into a universal experience without ever lapsing into cliché. Whether or not the story is actually Lewis’ matters little. As the album progresses, the story becomes ours and makes us nostalgic for something that we weren’t even a part of. It’s impossible to hear the achingly beautiful “I Can’t Wait” or the tender “While We’re Dancing” without dialing up your own gauzy, VHS-quality memories.
While much has already been made of the album’s homemade feel, the production choices appear to be fueled by budgetary concerns instead of aesthetic ones. The “laptop music” tag goes out the window halfway through “While We’re Dancing”, when the song unexpectedly explodes into some Queen-worthy guitarmonies. Forget is very much a rock ‘n roll album, full of insistent grooves and cathedral-sized choruses. Taylor makes sure that there isn’t a single misplaced twinkling synth, yet it’s Lewis who holds down the bottom end.
He successfully substitutes poppin’ bass for lead guitar on the Smiths-y “Slow”, while the Studio 54 banger “Shooting Holes in the Moon” walks with a stroll so mean that it should send James Murphy scrambling for Lewis’ cell phone number. With the ominous “Castles in the Snow”, Lewis begins to grow restless and the back half of the album which, in turn, grows more unfamiliar and urgent. By the time we encounter the bongo boosted fury of “For Now”, which sounds like the theme to a long lost 80’s TV police drama, Lewis has traded the careless whispers for full-throated declarations. Lewis makes a well-worn statement like “Is there anything as quiet as a night alone with you?” sound revelatory before finally kicking over the laptop and launching into a scorching guitar solo.
Although Forget might not usher in a new musical era, it’s a near-flawless album and certainly one of the most impressive debuts we’ve ever seen. It might not change your life, but it will bury itself deep into your brain and make you feel good and warm for a couple of days. Given George Lewis Jr’s restless nature, it’s a safe bet that this will be the only Twin Shadow album of its kind. And that alone is something to be very excited about.
// Notes from the Road
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