It would be an understatement to say that The Twilight Sad is having a spectacular year. They have gone from wondering if they should continue as a band, to a major change of fortunes with the release of the widely praised “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave”. In the year since that release they have seen their fan base grow exponentially on both sides of the Atlantic. The band started out 2015 opening for We Were Promised Jetpacks, then headlined a club tour in the US and Europe and they will finish out the year with a sold out show at the legendary Barrowlands venue. In spring of this year Robert Smith of The Cure covered their amazing song “There’s a Girl In the Corner” which was a dream come true for the band. On October 7th it was announced that they would be the opening band for The Cure’s 2016 concerts at Madison Square Garden, NY, Rose Bowl, LA and UIC Pavilion, Chicago. Any way you cut it those ingredients make for a red letter year.
With what can only be labeled as perfect time the band is releasing “Oran Mor” on October 16th which contains acoustic renditions of seven songs off of “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave”, one b side “The Airport” and a cover of the Arthur Russell song “ I Could Not Say it To Your Face’. Consider “Oran Mor” a delightful souvenir of a splendid year.
The Twilight Sad was formed in 2003 and prior to “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave” had released 3 studio albums, four compilations and 5 EPs. They were considered a “band that bands like”, opening for Mogwai, Snow Patrol, Smashing Pumpkins, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and running in tandem with Frightened Rabbit and other young Scottish bands. Current members are vocalist James Graham, guitarist, and multi instrumentalist Andy MacFarlane and drummer and drum programmer Mark Devine. They formed the band while in high school to do covers but got more serious about the band after graduating from school. The band has worked in many genres; shoegaze, noise rock, post-punk revival, indie and industrial rock. Their music has always evinced naked emotions, majesty, desolation and sophistication. 2014 was a year of self examination for the band especially Graham , who had doubts about whether the band should go on and approached the making of “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave” as probably being the band’s last album. Thankfully the album captured significant critical praise and increased listening public interest. On their change of fortunes Graham has since said,” I feel a bit stupid for doubting at any point, any doubts I have had at one time has been completely washed away, and it feels good because we have worked so hard.” With “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave” the band has rekindled the fire and rejuvenated itself.
The recordings for “Oran Mor” occurred before the release of “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave”. The band set up a secluded extended recording session with a majority of the songs coming from the then new release. The name of the release comes from the well know venue, Oran Mor which was formerly the Kelvinside Parish Church in the heart of Glasgow. The church is now a cultural center and meeting place. Oran Mor in Gaelic means great music and the release could not be more aptly named. The album was produced by the band and Andrew Bush. Bush mixed the release and Alan Douches mastered it at West West Side Music, New York. Originally the self released was intended as a limited edition EP only available at tour dates, but was reconfigured adding three songs and became an official wide release from the Fat Cat label this October.
“Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave” Has become one of my favorite albums of 2014, after a listen to “Oran Mor” I am now torn between my adoration for the original versions of the songs and the equally spell binding acoustic treatments of those songs on “Oran Mor”. What the new release displays is just how strong the songs on “Nobody” are, they are spectacular regardless of whether they are performed with a single guitar or with a full band and studio treatment. The release starts off with the title track of the 2014 release, “Nobody Wants to Be Here Nobody Wants To Leave”. It seemed unfathomable that this song could be better than the original studio rendition. However the stripped back version is actually even more beautiful. On this recording Graham’s majestic vocals are bravely alone in the forefront producing an evocative and moving version of the song that is breathtaking. “Last January” emphasizes MacFarlane’s genius in his beautiful acoustic treatment. Graham displays magnificent vocal control almost instinctively knowing when to press the accelerator and when to brake vocally to deliver a touching performance.
“It Was Never the Same” comes along just when you think the release can’t get any better, and shows it can with this stunning song. The stripped back arrangement demands that Graham’s vocals do the heavy lifting to deliver the song. In that respect Graham vocally is a heavy weight lifting champion. The song is performed with such heartfelt emotion and wistfulness it is jaw dropping and a spectacular track. The last third of the song has Graham applying the accelerator vocally make it oh so satisfying.
“Pills I Swallow” displays MacFarlane’s musical finesse with his apt deconstruction of the tune from the original. The glorious acoustics of the venue with its amazing reverb are the other inanimate performer on the recording and are shown to their full advantage on this track. The original recording of the song was an escalating explosion of sound. This version is a bit lower key but hits all the marks. The song again showcases Mr. Graham’s talents as a vocalist which are to be treasured, whether he is knocking the paint off the back wall of the room or playing it a bit more low key. On “I Could Give You All You Don’t Want” the stripping back of the original presentation pushes the beauty of the lyrics to the forefront. It retains that build to the climactic finale but in this case it has to be delivered by the modulation and control of the vocal. It is beautifully performed. “Drown So I Can Watch” takes this fantastic song and lets Graham loose vocally with all the strength of his pipes. It leaves no doubt he has amazing abilities both in his songwriting and singing.
The song “The Airport” had been intended for “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave” and until the last moment was going on the release. The song just did not seem to settle into the right spot in the running order. It had been later released on a double A side track to a limited edition 7 inch vinyl of “I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want”. The haunting tune is really the missing 11th song off “Nobody Wants to be Here Nobody Wants to Leave”. It is no surprise that this stellar song is very popular with the fan base and it is an inspired decision to add it to this release.
“Leave the House” is the penultimate song on the original release and has not been featured live by the band in recent touring set lists. The song gets some much deserved attention on this release and chances are it will probably appear in the late fall concert set lists. On the original album the song was an amalgam of shoegaze, noise rock genres. Reconfigured it is a nice departure from the other songs on the release with the great piano work which adds another dimension to the collection of songs.
The final song of the collection is a cover of the Arthur Russell song “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face”. It is the perfect finish to a brilliant release. The song certainly falls within the themes of the release and compliments The Twilight Sad’s Motif Leif with a mournful melancholy. Here the accordion played by MacFarlane is a great accompaniment as the acoustics of the venue again are the third member of the band on this song. For someone such as myself who appreciates great drumming and The Twilight Sad’s Mark Devine is a magnificent drummer, I have to say the recording does not lack anything losing the percussion. There is a crystalline purity to be savored with the stripping back to basically guitars and vocal. For those who have not hear the original release Mark’s drumming is a treat to savor and I highly recommend you avail yourself.
Oran Mor is a must have for Twilight Sad fans and a great introduction to the band’s latest efforts for curious music aficionados. It is a powerful display of all the strengths of Graham and MacFarlane’s songwriting and performing. Bless the person who suggested the band do this recording. 2016 looks to be even more exciting for the band with their opening stint for The Cure. This record along with the original release support The Cure’s decision to give this band greater exposure. Hopefully that exposure will elevate this band to the status they so deserve. “Oran Mor” is beautifully conceived and performed.