You got to give it to the Twilight Sad: they flirt so utterly and dangerously with melodrama, and on occasion, completely give in to it. No band in recent memory has been so willing to inject nearly lethal levels of pathos into every song in their canon, while simultaneously managing the deft trick of keeping the proceedings from turning embarrassingly overemotional. Consider this hastily arranged and poorly thought out notion: the market on musical melodrama has been mostly cornered by three subgenres over the past couple of decades. Emo/Screamo bands alternate between graceless temper tantrums and awkward teenage sentimentality, both territories fraught with lyrical landmines. Shoegaze bands allow that same sadness to render them nearly vocally mute yet instrumentally titanic. Epically huge arena rock bands like U2 try and distill the sadness of humanity and it’s capacity to overcome into tremendous and triumphant monstrosities laden with soaring choruses and chiming guitars. Then along comes the Twilight Sad, daringly charting a course that traverses each of these paths, while expertly avoiding the myriad pitfalls of all three.
What’s more, the Twilight Sad pulls this feat off while adhering to an almost amorphous sense of songwriting. Sussing out the differences that make their verses their verses and their choruses their choruses is no easy task, made all the more confusing by singer James Graham’s dense and unmistakable Scottish brogue. The best we can guess is that the Twilight Sad’s choruses are those easily predicted moments of instrumental explosion, projected by gradually building drums. Their sophomore full-length album, Forget the Night Ahead, finds the band as devoted to this formula as they were on their debut LP, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters. Yet, god bless ‘em, it still works.
To start, a considerable amount of praise ought to be directed the way of guitarist and producer Andy MacFarlane for his distinctive work in both roles. As a guitarist, MacFarlane prefers his instrument absolutely wracked with queasy distortion and treble. When combined with Craig Orzel’s reliable bass and Mark Devine’s steadily portentous drums, the effect is a disorienting wall of bombastic noise, brought completely to light by MacFarlane’s colossal production. The Twilight Sad’s live shows are notoriously loud, something I’m sad to say I’ve never personally verified. Forget the Night Ahead, much like its predecessor, make that hearsay seem not just plausible, but inevitable.
From the outset, the Twilight Sad set a mood of impending cataclysm by pitting a foreboding bass line against Graham’s warnings of “people downstairs.” Given Graham’s thick accent, it’s difficult to figure out where these warnings lyrically lead. Instrumentally though, the story is fully told in detonations. From there, The Twilight Sad rarely relents. The big numbers (“I Became A Prostitute,” “Made To Disappear”) are overwhelming displays of widescreen rock. The quieter songs (“The Room”) are peaceful merely by comparison; yet still retain the band’s epic sensibilities. Much like on Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, the collective effect is dizzying.
It’s entirely likely that the criticisms previously leveled at the Twilight Sad-that their songs are a little too homogenous, and their near constant histrionics spread the effect of each individual song out too thin- will likely be leveled again, and the criticisms are not entirely unfair. It would be difficult to argue that by the time “The Neighbours Can’t Breathe” rolls around at song ten, the listener won’t feel like they’ve heard it already. Even Forget the Night Ahead‘s more experimental moments (“Scissors,” “Floorboards Under the Bed”) are marked by instrumentation too spectral and dread inducing to provide any kind of temporary relief from the band’s usual assault. But the Twilight Sad is not about relief. Their brand of emotional purging comes in the form of pitch-black spectacle, and it’s truly something to behold.