There’s a girl, again. Beneath the punishing noise levels, repeating motifs often give the Twilight Sad’s songs their shape. Witness “There’s a Girl in the Corner”, the insistent, roiling opener on Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. When singer James Graham hurls the accusation, “There’s a girl in the corner / And she’s crying for you / Gonna die for you,” it is an unmistakable call back to the scene set in their 2009 single, “I Became a Prostitute”: “There’s a girl / In the crowd / And she’s bawling her eyes out,” After their last release, No One Can Ever Know (2012), bent away from the barrage of ache and volume that they let loose on Forget the Night Ahead before it, Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave reconciles the approaches of those two previous records while also distinguishing itself from both.
The band’s subsequent creative change-up after bassist Craig Orzel stepped aside in the wake of Forget the Night Ahead might have been as much a product of circumstance as intention, but either way it was still the right time to ease off the volume pedal and try out some keyboards. Instead of rushing to fill the new space, the group decided to explore it, allowing guitarist Andy MacFarlane the chance to work off of sharp icy synth textures, and drummer Mark Devine to give his arms a slight break from the normal pummeling. The especially strong trio of “Not Sleeping”, “Another Bed”, and “Kill It in the Morning” validated the experimenting and ended the LP on a peak.
Another window presented itself, perhaps, when former touring keyboardist Martin Doherty became busy with Chvrches after No One Can Ever Know came out. What Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave confirms, though, is that further electro-reinvention wasn’t in the cards. “Another Bed” and “Kill It in the Morning”, which spliced danceable rhythms into dour DNA in a way that did the legacy of side A of Joy Division’s Closer proud, will, for the time being at least, remain outliers in their repertoire. But neither has the band reverted to old ways. Instead, the new album cuts a third route down the middle, focusing on elevating tension gradually rather than releasing it for maximum devastation, just doing so with less electronics in the foreground than last time.
Even when they use what might be their lightest touch to date, the results still get titled “Drown So I Can Watch”, and bear lines like “I put you through hell / But you carried it oh so well.” Tucked in the middle of the record, “Drown So I Can Watch” is the most surprising turn on the album; gentle, even jangly by their standards. Graham spares his full lung capacity as springing guitar notes tumble down over a Mersey backbeat, his multi-tracked vocals becoming entangled in a tender round; “There’s a girl on my sho-oulder” making another slight lyrical return. Later on, the cruising descent of “Pills I Swallow” also doubles Graham’s vocal parts – a trick that turns up repeatedly, utilizing range instead of roar.
Differences are palpable even in the places that seem most familiar. The welcome one-two of “There’s a Girl in the Corner” and the careening late night drive “Last January” place emphasis on steady momentum; the ferocity of yore not drained, but channeled. “I Could Give You All That” and “It Never Was the Same” grab big choruses without anthemic overreaching. The second half pivots to the muscular “In Nowheres” before the title track wades in reflection and regret (“Can we go back / I won’t keep you here / I won’t keep you long / Can you stay tomorrow? / You won’t leave tomorrow”), floating over a deep undertow of My Bloody Valentine-style churn, a lone horn joining Graham as he forlornly concludes, “I don’t know where it all went wrong.”
The consequence of time’s passage is the red thread that ties these 10 tracks together. A drinking game centered on Graham’s use of the word ‘die’ here would prove fittingly fatal. “There’s no one in the right / So what do you care for?” he implores on “Leave the House”. The final, plaintive “Sometimes I Wished I Could” strands him on the shore with a piano and a muted beating pulse, the ambience heightened in the middle by a passing sound like a distant flock of seaside gulls, as a few lonely realizations turn over and over in his mind: “We’ve been left back / You don’t want me anymore.”
‘Mature,’ ‘refined,’ and other synonyms of the like are all apt descriptors of Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, which offers a more nuanced musical narrative arc than any of the Twilight Sad’s previous albums. Where quiet moments have more often felt like necessary breathers to reload for further bombardment, here the dynamic shifts between the songs push things forward as much as those within them. Graham’s side of the story, still a beguiling mix of impressionistic emotional distress and peculiar detail, gathers a kind of clarity, articulating more than obscuring. But, really, the Twilight Sad could rock Korgs or kazoos and their core sound would still remain intact. Graham’s distinct brogue incantations and their sodden, soaring refrains are in their bones.