While Scottish trio The Twilight Sad made a huge bang with their 2007 debut Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, its 2009 follow-up Forget the Night Ahead indicated that the group might struggle in advancing their sound enough to make them a long-term player. The melodic, vocal approach to modern post-rock was indeed a fresh and stimulating listen, but just like the groups that informed their core sound, they ran the risk of getting stale quickly. Fortunately with No One Can Ever Know, the band circumvents expectation, and the result will be a reinvigorating listen for fans.
The band has cited Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails as influences for this record, and indeed there is a brooding, industrial undertone to a lot of these tracks. Rather than elicit the explosive tendencies of Scottish peers Mogwai as they have done previously, The Twilight Sad takes a slow-building approach (Krautrock has also been cited by the group for the album’s inspiration), increasing tension over the course of the track and, moreover, the course of the album.
Opener “Alphabet” appropriately establishes the style and mood of the album. Its simple, steady beat is met with minimal synth textures as the band starts layering the sound on through to the end. Frontman James Graham belts, “So sick to death of the sight of you now,” in the chorus. It’s a good hook that many fans will be able to relate with and sing along to.
On “Dead City,” it is apparent that Graham is struggling with the high notes more than before. The song features a big chorus and while its written well, Graham can’t quite execute. It’s easy to hear him strain to reach the high note, and then he kind of sloppily comes down from it. The strain isn’t used for effect, it is an effect, which is a shame because this track is otherwise an excellent one with a driving bassline and general intensity. The good thing is that’s really the only fault on the entire album.
Graham isn’t letting anyone in on what these songs are really about (No One Can Ever Know—get it?), but for those times the lyrics are decipherable through his thick accent, listeners will be treated to eerie scenes from a troubled conscience. “Don’t Move,” which resurrects the post-punk revival sound of early Editors and Bloc Party, features the line, “I want you more than you will ever know,” and with its ghostly synthesizers, it draws a rather dark and creepy picture of desire. Many have tried to be like Joy Division, but here, The Twilight Sad actually comes close. The key is that they do it on their own terms, not by mimicking. There is an honestly tormented soul behind this song and the feeling translates.
The second half really kicks things into gear when “Don’t Look at Me” starts building momentum for the finish. It seems to continue the musical and lyrical matter of “Don’t Move” with the recurring line, “I still watch you,” peering through another synth-heavy mass of sound and an even faster beat.
Finally, whereas the band’s first two albums ended on a softer note, “Kill It in the Morning” sends things out with a bang. It is a gritty rocker that pulls out all the stops. Graham gives his best overall vocal performance, and musically, it even has a bit of a finale built in.
It must be awful to go through whatever Graham is going through, but the man has made a hell of an album out of it. There’s not much in the way of innovation, but it perfectly conveys a mood throughout its nine tracks and proves that The Twilight Sad isn’t a one-trick pony.
The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know tracklist:
- “Dead City”
- “Don’t Move”
- “Don’t Look at Me”
- “Not Sleeping”
- “Another Bed”
- “Kill It in the Morning”