This is what it would have sounded like if the shoegazers ever made it to the arenas. Glasgow’s Twilight Sad clearly know their Bloody Valentines from their Slowdives, and on their debut full-length, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, they borrow a little bit from each. But they’ve also been paying attention to their anthemic brethren in Idlewild and Frames. The quartet’s combination of bombastic choruses and wall of noise crescendos probably won’t get them beyond clubs and theaters to the big stages — at this point they’re still a tad too experimental for the masses — but on songs like “I’m Taking the Train Home” it’s easy to imagine them in front of a swaying crowd of thousands (eyes closed and glowing cell phones in hand), rocking the arena with their delay pedals set to stun.
Twilight Sad came together in 2003 and played around Glasgow, creating long, free-form, half-hour or more pieces out of your standard rock gear as well as theremin, tape loops, toy keyboards and whatever else fit in the van. They landed a deal with FatCat on the strength of a four-track demo and issued a very well-received EP last year. Then they holed up in a couple of Scottish studios, taming their lengthy jams and crafting nine songs, before bringing them to Connecticut to mix with Peter Katis (Spoon, Interpol, Mice Parade).
There’s a certain formula to many of the songs they came up with — begin with a repeating melodic phrase, something pretty, add ambience to it, then bring in huge guitar washes that multiply until they threaten to overwhelm and exhaust the song, then return to the intro phrase and be done. But it’s a rather compelling formula — it’s worked for scads of bands for decades — and Twilight Sad do it well.
One of the main attractions, at least for we Yanks, is James Graham’s vocals, which are heavily accented. To this they add Andy McFarlane’s accordion, plinky piano, and a host of guitar effects, building epic walls of noise. Opener “Cold Days From the Birdhouse”, a beautiful number that starts with some feedback around an acoustic guitar and a single piano note being played and swells into a six-string crescendo, sets the tone for the record. And it never lets up. On songs like “Talking With Fireworks/Here, It Never Snowed”, they are surely staring down at their sneakers like no one since Ride. On the lovely instrumental closer they sound more like Sigur Ros and ride out with heavily delayed guitars. (They’ve also listened to their Aerogramme records and have been compared to Frightened Rabbit.)
You might expect that a band named Twilight Sad would be sappy romantics, and you’d be right. Sad they are. The singer gets so emotional, baby, on tunes like “That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy”, about a fourteen-year-old’s family problems. In “Mapped by What Surrounded Them”, the walls are made of blades, and a girl named Emily is cut by shards of stained glass. But it’s not the words — they’re nice but more evocative than narrative — that will move you, so much as Graham’s vocals and the sea of guitar that swirls around it. If ever a guitar can be said to swoon, it might be in “I’m Taking the Train Home.” And you’ll be swooning along with it.