Mainstream success has mostly eluded the Twilight Sad, which is somewhat disappointing and even more surprising—their compatriots We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbitstill fill rooms in the States despite being only slightly more “pop,” proof that a certain kind of Scottish miserablism will always play well overseas, especially when delivered with a whiskeyed brogue. Consequently, when you’re the most successful and long-running band with the word “sad” in its name, the obvious question is, at what point does such a staunch commitment to misery become, well, kinda miserable? In the case of the Twilight Sad, it takes about a decade, as everything from the title of Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave to its uncertain sonic direction tells of a band feeling trapped within their own reputation.
Which is somewhat disappointing and even more surprising—Twilight Sad have always been savvy about anticipating diminishing returns. Following their gripping and enduring 2007 debut Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, Forget the Night Ahead served as the prototypical, “darker, more difficult” sophomore LP, quite the accomplishment considering the already downtrodden emotional tenor that preceded it. But rather than sinking deeper into the murk, Twilight Sad maintained their essence while swapping out almost all of their superficial sonic signifiers—turbulent guitar noise and resounding drums were exchanged for icy synths, frigid post-punk, and clangorous drum machines on No One Can Ever Know. In between, they’ve stripped down and reworked their originals for live performances and EPs, and have been open to remixes of their own work. Point being that they’ve covered far more territory than you’d expect from a Scottish mope-rock band and Nobody Wants to Be Here wisely attempts to reestablish the Twilight Sad in 2014 by offering a comprehensive overview.
In a sense, that much is accomplished—while the Twilight Sad keeps the machinery around in a supporting role, these are guitar and drum songs, as they were in the past. Meanwhile, Fourteen Autumns producer Peter Katis returns with a booming, room-filling expansiveness that once tied Twilight Sad to his previous charges such as Interpol and the National. But rather than demonstrating the range of Twilight Sad, Nobody Wants to Be Here coalesces every one of their modes into a gray, midtempo whole that curtails the extremism on both sides. Eerie synth wobbles interrupt the hypnosis brought on by the cyclical opener “There’s a Girl in the Corner”, but otherwise, the electronics cloak Nobody Wants to Be Here in musty shadows. Andy MacFarlane’s once-volcanic guitar work has cooled to an ashy remnant, as he favors curlicued melodic patterns that also recall the National more than, say, Mogwai. Meanwhile, drummer Mark Devine remains curiously underutilized, forgoing both his punishingly loud thumping on Fourteen Autumns and Forget the Night Ahead and the militant precision of No One Can Ever Know—the title track and “Last January” respectively recall the obsessive locomotion of No One’s “Sick” and “Don’t Move”, and later on, “Drown So I Can Watch” is only a slight variation on “Last January”.
James Graham colludes with his band’s most sedate arrangements rather than contrasting them, which increases the difficulty of him getting his point across. This, despite his knack for threatening, tensile mantras—“So cold I know where you go/ Telling me no,” “So we dance to save them all,” “She’ll carry me away from here.” As usual, the song titles are evocative (“In Nowheres”, “Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep”) and his performances are expressive, but Graham’s words always withhold something crucial, strongly suggesting either childhood trauma still yet to be processed, or deep-seated romantic troubles yet to emerge. This had usually been compensated for by a jarring musical rupture or an unexpected leap in his vocal range, but Twilight Sad are stingy with any sort of catharsis and so their sonically warmest and most accessible album is their most emotionally impenetrable.
The mixed messages encoded in Nobody Wants to Be Here were hinted at in an interview with Graham from earlier this year; he claimed a rejuvenated interest in the concept of the Twilight Sad but only after a difficult writing process and a year’s worth of discouragement in light of the cool reception that met the underappreciated No Can Ever Know. It certainly couldn’t have helped to see former touring member Martin Doherty use them as a foil for the neon-lit synth-pop he now creates in Chvrches—he told us, “I’m having more fun on stage than I did in previous bands,” the implication being that, hey, being in the Twilight Sad was bringing me down, man. That was the case for Graham too, as he expressed a need to return to making music that works in a big room; and perhaps it’s in a live setting where one can truly bear witness to the Twilight Sad’s newfound commitment, as the lack of palplable passion on Nobody Wants to Be Here is, once again, somewhat disappointing and even more surprising.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1thSfpO