Life is certainly a series of swings and roundabouts. The Scottish band The Twilight Sad can certainly attest to that statement. Just before the release of their stellar 2014 fourth release, Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave the band were on the brink of dissolving. After 10 years of dedicated effort, they were frustrated by their inability to gaining a foothold in the music industry. To add insult to injury their gear shed had recently been burgled. The local constabulary had informed them that the police force had put the theft on a low priority; adding there was no local crack team of CSI going to solve the robbery. It was enough to make a grown man weep or at least ponder the wisdom of packing in the band.
Fast forward five years and witness fickle fate doing an about-face smiling upon the band. Their fortunes would begin to turn with the warm critical reception to Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave and an opening support gig for We Were Promised Jetpack’s on their US tour. The band would return to Scotland and stun fans with their headline, sold out, Barrowlands concert. Things would get even better when one of lead singer James Graham’s personal rock icons, Robert Smith of the Cure asked to cover the Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave track, There’s a Girl in the Corner. On a definite roll, the band would see the album secure a larger international following. With the growing momentum, their record label would decide to release the Oran Mor Session, a recording of stripped-down acoustic renderings for many of the tracks from Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. This recording had previously only been available at their live gigs. In 2016 they would be asked by The Cure be their opening band on their US and European tours. At the end of that extensive tour, Graham would form the side project Outlines with up and coming songstress Kathryn Joseph and gifted producer Marcus Mackay.
The trio would release the impressive Conflats in fall of 2017. The final flourish on what has been an exceptional five years was the arrival of James Graham’s son last spring. The positive entries in the ledger had been many but there were still a few less positive occurrences, one amicable but undesired and the other heartbreaking. The first was the amicable departure of original member/drummer Mark Devine. Then the heartbreak and shock of the suicide of a close friend and lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchinson in the Spring of 2018. Prior to the release of It Won/t Be Like This All The Time the band would decide to leave Fat Cat Records for Mogwai’s Rock Action label. Upon returning to the work on the new album the band would come to the studio with enthusiasm and a lot of experiences to work through on the new recording.
It Won/t Be Like This All The Time was recorded in early 2018 at The Cottage, in Loch Fyne, Scotland and Middle Farm Studios in Devon, U.K. The album was produced by Andy McFarlane, band guitarist and musical polymath. Replacing Mark Devine on the drums for the album was Jonny Scott. McFarlane and Graham would eventually invite Sebastian Schultz to take over permanent drumming duties. Besides replacing the drummer The Twilight Sad would expand from the official trio configuration to a band of five with touring keyboardist Brendan Smith and Bassist Johnny Docherty becoming full belted members of The Twilight Sad.
This broadening of the band membership provides more sonic avenues than the prior trio construct. This expansion allows the band to take a step away from Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave morphing the band’s sound with more keyboards and throbbing bass. With those additions, It Won/t Be Like This All The Time never forgets what got the band where they are; a unique combination of the wall of sound guitars and introspective dark examinations of the soul. All those classic TTS elements remain on the new release but are more polished and enhanced. The lyrics on the new release pull no punches. In the past, Graham used opaque allusions to indicate his thoughts, but no longer, lyrically candour is the guiding principle. Displaying Graham utilizing what he learned on the luminous Outlines Conflats record. He continues to gain an understanding of loss, anger, depression and struggle. He identifies the neverending battle to be resilient in the face of adversity. Overall the album seems tighter and accessible as it produces an alluring exuberant pessimism that is The Twilight Sad’s signature.
The album begins with [10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs] that is an alchemy of Kraut Rock, swirling keyboards and a relentless bass. The title of the song reflects all the modern anxiety and isolation of our age. It also addresses romance in an era filled with “conformity to type” as the heroine of the piece states “all these boys look the same”. The track is a great opener and notifies fans something exciting is about to transpire. Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting discusses romantic betrayal and the eternal quest to be a person of substance in an unreliable world. The protagonist’s love interest seems interested in pleasing everyone but the narrator, ”I caught you kissing on the back stairs”. This event leaves the narrator wondering what to do next, making for an engaging quandary. The selection sonically is filled with cranking guitar work exemplary of MacFarlane’s skills as the keyboards enhancing the track.
The Twilight Sad’s time with The Cure is most evident on The Arbor which harkens to The Cure’s Pornography release. The Twilight Sad channels that classic gothic ethereal vibe leaving their singular impression on the track which makes for a memorable experience. The lyrics examine a relationship in shreds as the abandoned lover pines for a lover who is “gone so long”. The thumping bass is the anchor sonically and apt accompaniment to the heartbreaking yearning captured on the song. VTr is a very smooth presentation of all The Sad’s attributes; it is instantly approachable and different without turning off old fans. This is the most commercial track on the release but still contains lyrical topics that are classic reoccurring themes for the band. Issues such as paranoia and trust are examined seen through the prism of the band’s recent success. The swirling large soundscape of the song really grows on the listener and will stick in the mind.
Sunday Day 13 is a marvel as it weaves droney synths at the intro with the aural minimalism found in the Outlines venture. At the heart of selection is the theme of uncertainty that undermines romantic relationships. The central question asked is, “Would you throw me out into the cold, if that is what you were told to do?” The candour of the lyrics is breathtaking as they centre on the universal fear of betrayal.
I/m Not Here (Missing Face) is my favourite track on the release and well worth the price of admission. The song is still shooting around my head days after the first listen. On the intro, the shoegaze guitars intertwine with an insistent piano then shift gear into the main sonic. The song has much in common with the work on their previous album as Graham emphatically let's loose his Scottish accent on the track. The drums are inspired as they underpin the hypnotic accompaniment. Examined is the thin line between love and loathing in a relationship. Underlined is the sad fact that too often it is easy to lose what was beloved about someone as love turns to discontent, “I don’t want to be around you anymore”. The track is catchy as hell but delivers a punch topically that leaves a mark.
I really enjoyed, Auge Maschine. The selection utilizes a combined industrial/ soaring shoegaze sound that is mesmerizing. The song starts slow put pack a wallop, as it captures a bombastic explosion of guitar goodness. The lyrics are drenched in paranoia as Graham chillingly sings, “You think that we are scared, and they won’t come for you, well they’ve come for you, we come for you.” Auge Maschine is a brilliant track where everything comes together.
The ballad-like Keep it all to Myself has definite influences drawn from the Outlines side project. The bass slams away as oscillating sonics intro the track. The theme addresses presenting a calm front when all is sliding away, and losing what is dear because of the refusal, to be honest. Girl Chewing Gum will be a deep track favourite of longtime fans of The Twilight Sad. This song echoes early TTS cacophony and has a distinctly wonky pulled around feel. This is The Twilight Sad at the top of their game blending their new skills with their long-held abilities to make engaging music; I love the interplay of MacFarlane and Graham on this sleeper of the release. Let/s Get Lost is the track that is the largest departure from classic TTS as it is almost a dance track reminding me of New Order. I find I still prefer the loud, classic Macfarlane guitar noise to this approach; but I think Graham’s vocal treatment makes it interesting. Once again the song grows with each additional listen.
The finale Videograms channels Depeche Mode in TTS’s unique way with that iconic expansive soundscape filled with shoegaze and centering on Graham’s vocals. Once again a couple is rounding on each other taking out their frustrations not on those who cause them, but on one another. The “straw that breaks the camel’s back” imagery is summons effectively, “Don’t you start on me, don’t start” and echoes an all too common experience. Videograms is strong volley that brings this exceptional release to a satisfying close.
It Won/t Be like This All the Time is cathartic and accessible. There is a universality to the lyrics that allows the listener to feel they are not alone in their emotions of isolation and frustration with the world. The Twilight Sad’s recordings cannot be characterized as a joyful celebrative escape; instead, they offer the consolation of acknowledging what we endure in life. They express their disappointment in a manner that scratches an itch and feels so good. Each pass of the album makes it more addictive and adhesive in the mind. There is a definite progression with the release and their individuality and vision for the band is intact. With the new recording, they assuaged a fear I held that they would become a pale carbon copy of The Cure.
The Twilight Sad continues to be their own unique entity, adding to their potential as they draw from their varied recent musical experiences. The results are evident on It Won/t Be Like This All The Time it is their strongest effort to date, proving they have come a long way from the ear bleeding loudness that sometimes obscured their genius on their early albums. It Won/t Be Like This All the Time is a worthy follow up to Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. The new release will definitely feature in my best of 2019 list and is a great way to begin the musical New Year.
The Twilight Sad - It Won/t Be Like This All the Time is released 18th January 2019