Sometimes there exists such a definite, indestructible connective bond between band and fan, that it can feel as if both depend on the other for their very survival. For fans of Scottish band the Twilight Sad, this has been the case since their brilliant, 2007 debut, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winter. The Twilight Sad have never been a band simply to like. No, they are a band to love, live in and learn from. These kind of relationships are special and when they’re rewarded with the best album the band has made then the results can be life-changing for both parties.
On the band’s fifth album, the core duo of Andy MacFarlane and James Alexander Graham have crafted a complete album with a discernible aesthetic running through it. From the haunting artwork to the invention and revision of the band’s sound, everything that made the band so special has been re-defined and re-calibrated as if they’ve purposely stripped themselves back to their core to discover what happens when they follow previously unexplored, evolutionary paths.
That’s not to say that the overall sound is unrecognizable from what has come before. There are plenty of nods to the band’s past, superb discography. The squalling, shoegaze guitars of Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, the brooding electronics of No One Can Ever Know, the raw, intimacy of Nobody Wants to Be Here and No One Wants to Leave are all present but they are melded with fresh, nuanced sonic textures and, bright, emphatic post-punk synths all injected with more direct, pop hooks and melodies. What’s left is an album informed by all of their musical experiences and as such works as their definitive artistic statement.
Lyrically, Graham has eschewed the more oblique, metaphorical writings that characterized the band’s early output. There is a welcome directness and emotional prescience to lyrics on It Won/t Be Like This All the Time that marks the album out as unique in the band’s canon. Graham taps directly into those universal feelings of pain, loss, regret, and joy that signify the human experience with each line like a shared course plotted on life’s road map with Graham offering assistance in navigating the ragged journey still to come.
Opening with pulsing synths, “10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs” immediately pulls the listener into the middle of a relationship on its knees with the line “we’re hanging by a thread”. In one succinct line, Graham manages to draw you in more quickly and more effectively than most BBC primetime dramas. Musically, the song weaves sweeping, cinematic synths amongst a deep, strident bassline before the fissures in the protagonist’s relationship widen as Graham howls “I called you all night / And the cracks begin to show.” Even for a band who have made a career out of capturing the desperation and anguish of modern living, Graham’s voice is almost painfully raw as if suddenly bubbling over from a long-suppressed emotional well before finally pleading “Why can’t you remember me?”
)”Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting” follows in barnstorming fashion. Opening with a powerful salvo of squalling guitar that gives way to floating piano, propulsive drums, and a driving bassline before a brilliant pop synth line guides the chorus into calmer waters; steering it away from the omnipresent threat of chaos. Like the best Twilight Sad songs, it builds to a swirling, distorted finish that is going to sound absolutely monumental live. “The Arbor” has a beguiling, hypnotic quality as the taut, rolling bass line and circling guitar riff gently draw you in as Graham grasps for answers, repeating the line “Why did you leave in the night / You’ve been gone for so long.”
On “VTr” Graham sounds lost (“I don’t know who to trust”) even finding solace in the idea of escape (“Running away doesn’t feel so bad”) before finding cause for optimism (“There’s no love too small”). Full of synth hooks and taut vocal melodies, if such a thing as a crossover hit still existed in 2019, then “VTr” would be it. “Sunday Day13” appears to be a devastating account of domestic abuse in a frighteningly toxic relationship (“It’s happened too many times / He hit me too many times”) while “I/m not here [missing face]” is the dark, fractured heart of the album.
The song alludes to Graham’s more self-destructive tendencies as he battles the urge to burn his bridges with those he loves and retreat into himself where he can let self-pity consume him. For anyone who has felt like he has, it’s jarringly relatable as he rhetorically questions himself (“Why do you do this to yourself?”) Musically the song never allows itself to join him in his self-doubt, providing a beautiful contrast, as if constantly hauling him back from the edge with melodic guitar lines, clean synths and one of their most infectious choruses to date.
The stunning, “Auge Maschine”, opens with classic Twilight Sad yawning guitars buoyed by ominous, claustrophobic synths. “Keep It All to Myself” melds crisp, post-punk synths with MacFarlane’s inspired textured guitar playing that veers from bright, arpeggios to sweeping, metallic, gliding chords. The brooding menace of “Girl Chewing Gum” finds droning bass and slashes of chords gradually conspiring to suck all oxygen from the song giving it an oppressive, airless quality that bleeds over into “Let’s Get Lost”. Here, Graham sifts through the slowly extinguishing embers of a dying relationship and unconvincingly states, “It’s just another heartache to me.”
Stunning album closer and first single from the album, “Videograms”, steadily builds as bubbling electronics topped with New Order-esque guitar lines swell into a widescreen, cinematic epic. As the last notes drift away, the only reasonable thing to do is to press play to hear and feel the whole musical drama unfold all over again.
It Won/t Be Like This All the Time is like all of us. It’s bruised, lonely, confused yet hopeful. It feels more important than a collection of songs on a spinning disc. It’s a balm, a hand to hold and a kick up the arse. It’s the album the Twilight Sad have always been destined to make, and it’s the album fans have always known they would make.