The Twilight Sad
Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
he Twilight Sad began as a band of excess. Shaping and refashioning tape loops, theremin, thumb pianos, effects pedals, and such into long, meandering instrumentals that often strained the bottom of the hour, the Glasgow band opened with a will to heave it all together. They wanted to mount and recede, I guess, to dizzy their audience in circles of airless headstuff, then put some stern, frozen-soundin’ shit around the edges ‘til they’d developed an atmospheric glaze like My Bloody Valentine or Sigur Ros. Or, more likely, they didn’t really know what they wanted.
Well, the Twilight Sad are no longer constructing half-hour feedback dirges. They’re content now with the five-minute variety. After releasing their self-titled EP on FatCat last year, produced by the band alongside Max Richter, the quartet secluded themselves and lay down the vaguest borders of what would become Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters before heading to Connecticut to work with Peter Katis (known for producing albums by Interpol, Spoon, the Mobius Band). Though it’s hard to say just how rough its songs were going in—besides the fact that three were on last year’s EP—the band’s debut full-length is a mesmerizing entry in this developing post-post-rock, neo-EMO genre (you know, the kind that’s acceptable for college-grads).
And though that sounds patronizing, it’s intended as praise. The Twilight Sad are still a band of excess, but it’s not in their extended atmospheres now—it’s in their well-layered sense of angst. With James Graham’s shaggy Glaswegian accent (think Aidan Moffat with less hair on his neck) mostly spread thickly around gales of guitar, feedback, and the slow, pulsing accordion of Andy MacFarlane, the Twilight Sad enjoy the froth of noise, and they use it well. Drums churn, or often simply mark accelerated time, against Graham’s cryptic Glaswegian moanings, which use repeated refrains and stark, oddly indecipherable imagery to add to the band’s bewildering atmospheres—“And did your fear not grow / When you see that you’re all mine / See that you’re all mine / With a knife in your chest” (“Talking With Fireworks / Here, It Never Snowed”). Or he slurs misty, asking you to pour meaning where you see the holes—“And she’s sitting in her Grandma’s garden / And she’s playing with her toys / Just another childlike ghost” (“Mapped By What Surrounded Them”)—barely audible within the band’s muscular layering of guitars.
Still, it’s hard not to notice that the best songs on Fourteen Autumns were already featured on last year’s EP. “That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy,” the EP’s centerpiece, was the first illustration of how well the Twilight Sad’s shadowed lyricism merged with their blustery accordion-guitar squall combo, and it’s included here—in all its fires, scalded piety, and the creepy all-gathering possibilities of schoolboy paranoia, “they’re standing outside / And they’re looking in / They’re standing outside / And they’ve broken in / The kids are on fire in the bedroom.” Also reprised are “And She Would Darken the Memory,” with its stadium-filling brawn and more of Graham’s shaded phrasings (“And head up, dear / The rabbit may die”) and the fissured sound-piece “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard.” But given the band’s reliance on tone, Fourteen Autumns would never work as a whole without the Twilight Sad ably filling in the edges around their early successes, if never really equaling them. “Cold Days from the Birdhouse,” for example, fits a gurgling toy piano line to muffled guitar picking and Graham’s hotel-love song and offsets much of the album’s early howl to come, while “Walking for Two Hours” crashes like fellow Scots Mogwai, providing a tense counterpoint to “Cold Days.” The titular closer recaptures the band’s early ambient smoke without sacrificing their newfound economy, ending the album in a fist of train-siren noise, rattling tape-loops, and barely audible piano.
The Twilight Sad, so loud, are ironically kind of like the silent kids in the corner—you have to be around them a while before you know what part of them is speaking. Their charms are easily missed, or mistakenly lumped in as just another band too deaf and dizzy from their own feedback and a sightless fog to get you beyond RIYL. Accordions, guitars three-sheets to the din, and some sea-eyed Scot mangling poesie too artful and strange to be Robert Burns? Well, yeah, that’s actually about right, and Christ, it’s kind of beautiful.