Confession: I have a soft spot for dark music. The sort of music that has an emotionally laden undertow that is not always obvious but grips you subtly and then never lets go. (Perhaps this is the result of listening to too much Bauhaus at a young age.) Though it is arguable that it is an easy formula to get this effect in music, I have to point out that countless of bands have tried to generate this kind of undertow and at the end of it all they failed, degenerating into a death and gloom spiral that is boring, cliché, and unlistenable. But the Twilight Sad is able to generate that kind of undertow on their sophomore effort, “Forget the Night Ahead” (22 September 2009 in the USA, 5 October 2009 in the UK). Though they touted this album as a break from their nascent work, it really isn’t this major departure – I do not think that fans of the Twilight Sad are going to be taken aback with the album, instead they may find it a bit more interesting than their debut.
I can imagine all of the comparisons to My Bloody Valentine already, but this album is perhaps most comparable to the music of Mogwai. It has that same cinematic feel to it, but there is definitely more of an emphasis highlighting the lyrical content of each song with the music than writing music that independent to the lyrics. Unlike Mogwai (or My Bloody Valentine for that matter), the music speaks for the lyrics and is constantly constrained by the theme of the chosen song. Though this is not a new development for the band, “Forget the Night Ahead” differs from their debut in that it is louder. The deafening distorted and effected guitar often drowns out even the drums - you got to love effect pedals!
Though the opening of the album hints to what is to follow, “Reflection of the Television” is quite sedate and passive as a listening experience – and this is brilliant. Why? Television is a passive experience, and that is the kind of experience you receive while listening to the song. The track is followed by the lead single, “I Became a Prostitute.” Describable as infectious, the song would be a perfect radio-ready song if it weren’t so unsettling in sound – let alone lyrically. “That Room” is a definite highlight and standout; wrapped around a steady piano, drums, and bass, with splashes of guitar riffs that vary from low, eerie distortion to in-your-face walls of sounds. My favorite track, however, is “The Neighbours Can’t Breathe.” First off, it feels more epic that its five-and-a-half minutes (the longest song on the album). Second, below the awkward rhythm, muted by the sincere burr, and hidden by the distorted, multilayered arrangements, there is a pop sensibility to this song that is really fine-drawn. This song stands out among all the other songs on the album for its ability to generate more than one emotion in the span of one song – from distress to anxiety, from resignedness to hopelessness – this song will leave you in a state of emotional confusion, and I personally appreciate a song that can do that to me.
The Twilight Sad delivers a solid album with their sophomore effort. May it have fallen short from expectations? I think so, but then again who had those expectations? There are two ways of looking at any album. The first is drag in an endless array of comparisons with what is popular and hip, impose on it your own expectations, and pigeon-hole the experience of the album on some random scale of 1 to 10, or no stars to five, or whatever. This does no justice to any album. Though I think it is important to know what are the influences of a band and/or if the album is just rehash, when you look at an album with this kind of view, you will ultimately see everything that is “wrong” with it. But, if you go the second route, to judge an album against itself and the work and capabilities of that artist(s), then you can unlock and unfurl everything that is beautiful on that album. And “Forget the Night Ahead” is a beautiful album. Between its sensual darkness and its unsettling mix down, the album is a cryptic journey through life’s shattered expectations and veiled experiences we hardly want to be conscious of. My advice: allow yourself to be unsettled, move out of your comfort zone a bit, and take the journey. You may end up forgetting the night ahead, but this is not a forgettable album.
1. Reflection on the Television
2. I Became a Prositute
3. Seven Years of Letters
4. Made to Disappear
6. The Room
7. That Birthday Present
8. Floorboards Under the Bed
10. The Neighbours Can’t Breathe
11. At the Burnside
Keep up with The Twilight Sad at their homepage and MySpace.
Here is a video of a live performance of “Seven Years of Letters” from the kexpradio YouTube Channel.