One of The Twilight Sad’s greatest achievements isn’t sustaining a career for more than a decade, but the fact that they’re continually evolving: while their every release is unmistakably them, each album has its own unique flavour and there’s a definite trajectory in the band’s evolution. If ‘No-One Can Ever Know’ represented a sharp left-turn, it nevertheless made sense in context – to push the same template for a third album would have probably begun to grow tired, while the new sound seemingly reinvigorated the band and introduced a different shade to the morose reflections. The album unquestionably marked the beginning of a new expansion of the band’s sound which would inform subsequent releases, including their latest. The Cure, too, have clearly contributed to a shift in style: touring with the band and even collaborating with Robert Smith saw The Twilight Sad deliver their most broadly accessible album to date in the shape of ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here, and Nobody Wants to Leave’, with the angst and anguish replaced by more melancholic hues against backdrops of sweeping, smoky synths.
This time, introducing fucked-up, glitchy punctuation and deep electronics to the (funeral) party, The Twilight Sad once again incorporate every lesson learned from their previous works, assimilate and reconfigure those aspects and blend them with a distillation of raw emotion to conjure an album that hits hard, and is as full of lump-in-the-throat moments as any of its predecessors. I say that as someone who invariably cries at some point during each show of theirs I attend. There’s no shame in that, and I’m fairly confident I’m not alone. And this time, they’ve prefaced the release with three strong tasters that hint at the album’s range.
For those who’ve already heard ‘I’m Not Here’, ‘VTr’ and ‘Videograms’ – yes, they’re representative of an album that has range an immense emotional depth.
‘[10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs]’ commences with a skittering interloping synth, twitchy, edgy, hyperkinetic, disorientating – I’m briefly reminded of the start of Forward Russia’s debut – but it soon takes a turn for the dark and the brooding, the synths spreading into cold, expansive stretches which sprinkle frost on a bubbling churn of noise and hefty drumming buried low in the mix as James Graham steps it up a couple of minutes in and delivers a ragged vocal. ‘And now the cracks all start to show’, he hollers, and in that instant, the backing has swelled to a dense swirl of tension. In that moment, we’re away, transported into the world of pain, anguish and misery that they conjure. Andy MacFarlane’s guitar – not used to provide rhythm, structure or even musicality, but instead forging a squalling depth and a rich texture – is as essential to the sound as it ever was: it may be less prominent than on the first two albums, but without it, it simply wouldn’t be The Twilight Sad. And having regrouped with a new lineup, they sound more desperate and urgent – and cohesive – than ever.
The opening triptych on ‘Forget the Night Ahead’ still stands as one of the strongest openings of any album, let alone by the Twilight Sad, but ‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’, with its lyrical depictions of violence (‘I saw you killing on the back stair / I saw you kicking him’) powers in with a surge of guitar and a rush or urgency that’s been absent from their recent releases, and packs an emotional and sonic intensity that rivals ‘I Became a Prostitute’ and the attack of that second album. ‘The Arbor’ drifts dreamily, casting a dark and oppressive mood of restlessness crossed with melancholy, elevated by a thumping bassline heavily soaked on chorus.
But where both ‘FTNA’ and the last album, ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here, and Nobody Wants to Leave’ both taper off a little, ‘It Won’t Be Like This All the Time’ sees ‘VTr’ lock into a thumping motorik groove that sustains the intensity. ‘I don’t know who to trust’, ‘Running away doesn’t feel so bad’ Graham sings, finally imploring ‘please don’t leave me alone’. If any one song encapsulates emotional turmoil, its this one, although it’s this torment that not only defines ‘It Won’t Be Like This All the Time’, but The Twilight Sad’s work as a whole.
And herein lies the band’s appeal: they articulate not just a simple, single emotional state, but the complexity of inner turmoil. Yes, they’re moody, but they cover all the moods, with a gut-wrenching capacity to drag at the most painful, unspeakable details.
If ‘Sunday Day13’ offers sonic respite – but less so in emotional terms – the super-tense and howlingly bleak ‘I/m Not Here [Missing Face]’, which finds Graham renouncing and rejecting everyone including himself on a yawning wave of synths top a claustrophobically insistent groove really picks things up again and then some. Again, it packs all the emotional shades. It pulls at the guts. It hurts.
The final track, ‘Videograms’ (one of the three tracks previewed) sees the Sad go full Cure, with a bassline that’s pure ‘Disintegration’ driving a dreamy synth swirl. But the hook ‘Don’t you start / don’t you start on me’ brings that edge of threat and menace that laces so many classic Twilight Sad songs, from the warning of ‘button your lip’ on ‘Seven Days of Letters’, to ‘I will write your requiem the day you’re dead’ (‘Nil’).
The temptation is to slip into hyperbole and declare this the best Twilight Sad album yet, and the summit of her career. That would be a mistake and a fallacy: It Won’t Be Like This All the Time’ is as strong as any of their previous albums. The simple fact is that they haven’t done a remotely sub-standard album and everything they release is pure gold. There aren’t enough superlatives for ‘It Won’t Be Like This All the Time’, and my lack of words is the absolute measure of its greatness.
And while January is far from through, the album of the year is already upon us.