If you were to describe The Twilight Sad using one word, governable wouldn’t be it: this trio do whatever the hell they want musically.
Passive wouldn’t sum it up either, in fact, this is a band almost impossible to pin down with words.
You can’t strictly describe them as loud because they have moments of haunting quietness (‘Cold Days From the Birdhouse’, ‘Here It Never Snowed, Afterwards It Did’).
You can’t casually describe them as quiet either, because they make a visceral racket (‘Made to Disappear’) and their live shows, like Mogwai’s and My Bloody Valentine’s, have been described as ‘ear-splitting’.
Indeed, Twilight Sad gigs tend to be so loud they verge on physical.
Third album No One Can Ever Know is another entirely beguiling effort, difficult to snappily sum up but certainly darker, less guitar-oriented and harder to ingest than their previous efforts.
While Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters was a gorgeously understated slant on the revelry of youth, and Forget The Night Ahead a heavy, compact cacophony, this album seems to take place in a theatre of war.
The lyrics are grimmer than ever, the guitars are bludgeoned by synth and industrial effects (imagine the sound of a gasworks during a nightshift; clangs, machinery, militant energy), and the general mood one of malevolence, regret and fear.
Which doesn’t make for a boring listen, whichever way you look at it; on the contrary, get ready for the most involved album experience you’ll likely have all year.
Opener ‘Alphabet’ is an atmospheric slow-burner, its primary refrain of “so sick to death of the sight of you now/safe to say never wanted you more” delivered like a bawled conviction.
The listener is unsure exactly which instruments are threading this song together, but the guitars are certainly in the lower tier, waves of notes casting shadows at every turn.
This one is similar to ‘Seven Years of Letters’ from their sophomore record, with the same undercurrent of mememto mori.
While ‘Dead City’ is another cold, slow-churning ditty – The Twilight Sad does 80s electro synth – it has some of the best lyrics on the album, among them the panicked “no one can ever know” from which the record derives its name.
Nightmarish images also flit between the ears – “we can stay if we don’t make a sound/i still see them all/their eyes in the fog/i should’ve said no to it all”.
‘Sick’ – the first single from this album, released at the tail-end of 2011, is a tenebrous diamond, guitars making a welcome return, albeit the analog synths returning 1:42 in. James Graham has probably never sounded as frank as when singing the line, “you look so frail, you know” while considered drums underpin the entire sparse arrangement.
In most reviews, this record has been compared to Manic Street Preachers’ magnum opus The Holy Bible, and certainly the same troubled mood pervades No One Can Ever Know.
‘Don’t Move’ is effects-laden and urgent, while ‘Nil’ begins with some church organ before opening into a cornucopia of noise in the last 1:40.
And perhaps therein lies the real variance between this record and their previous two; in the past, the riptide of noise would have come first, or come sooner.
On No One Can Ever Know, the guys are far more content to experiment, far more willing to eschew the call-and-response exigency of their previous work.
‘Don’t Look At Me’ is a haunting Cure-esque tune drenched in synths (“i’m still sitting in the room where we left you to grow”) and with a penitent message, and ‘Not Sleeping’ begins with what sounds like a chorus of choirboys warming up, and Graham’s ever-listenable storytelling soon has you hooked.
Though the tune never really kicks into life (save for some affecting percussion), the ‘world’s-about-to-end’ atmosphere is hard to ignore.
Undoubtedly one of the finest songs on the album, second single, ‘Another Bed’ sounds very reminiscent of The Horrors during Skying, less claustrophobic than many of the preceding tracks, the crow spreading its wings, and some excellent lyrics, as ever, showcased: “i’ll find you/you are older/i’ll hold you when it’s over”.
Album closer ‘Kill it in the Morning’ puts no moratorium on the mood, but it does catch flames and make for a spirited closing salvo.
Beholden to no one, Twilight Sad continue to carve out their own unique sound with another stellar, rewarding album.
Words: Ronnie McCluskey