Fresh vocals set Twilight Sad apart

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April 27, 2007

1:46 AM

A shimmering, guitar-heavy wall of sound imperceptibly slips into the ear at some point in the first track, picking up force and then remaining a fixture throughout the album. It conjures thoughts of distant landscapes, while a heavy Scottish accent complements it with a stream of evocative, if at times inscrutable, lyrics. They are usually sung, though sometimes spoken, and occasionally screamed. An accordion navigates its way through this sonic tempest, along with another, often playfully twangy guitar accompaniment.

p. This is the sound of Glasgow-based indie rock group The Twilight Sad. Following up its self-titled EP from last year with the release of “Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters,” this first full album is an impressive collection of songs.

p. Though the band is composed of mostly traditional rock instrumentation, the aforementioned accent of singer James Graham and the accordion add an alluring spin to the group’s sound. In addition, there is a strong, steady drumming that often pounds through the stormy guitar and accordion blend, giving solid support to a persistent, if at times roaming, backdrop.

p. What’s most compelling about The Twilight Sad is how its music comes together, with vocals serving as an appropriate balance to the expansive instrumentation behind it. Whether Graham’s lines soar or are barely audible, his tone remains intimate, even vulnerable. And while a fury of sound surrounds him, he seems distant, or at least unaffected by it all, as though he’s found his way into the eye of the hurricane and plans to stay there.

p. There’s a steady singularity to his voice — an emotional intensity that gives you the feeling he’s recalling distant, sometimes plainful, memories. Fortunately, the lyrics, when intelligible, aren’t depressing in the laughably maudlin manner of many similarly styled bands. At the same time, however, there is an underlying melancholy, but it successfully walks the fine line between poignancy and platitude.

p. This is apparent on the first track, “Cold Days from the Birdhouse.” Graham repeats a line several times to the steady beat of drums and what will soon be a familiar background of cymbals crashing against the guitar and accordion. There is a pause and then Graham moves to another line: “So where are your manners?” he asks, almost pleading. The question carries the song nearly to its finish and finally fades away. The only remaining sound is a high piano key that has been thumping its way through the entirety of the track, veiled until the end. Subtle discoveries like these are one of the more exciting rewards for listening to the tracks several times through, as they can be picked out earlier in the track if one knows what to listen for.

p. In the next song, “That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy,” the reminiscent feeling is especially evident, as Graham recounts a bizarre, likely fictitious recollection of when he was 14. “The kids are on fire in the bedroom,” he says, in what has to be one of the more surreal lines of recent memory. Then he screams, “They’re standing outside / And they’re, they’re looking in,” sounding incredulous over what he’s recounting. The playful guitar resurfaces from the first track, flits somewhere in the background among the accordion and heavy bass guitar as the song eventually fades, leaving only that shimmering mainstay. It takes a few times listening, but one soon discovers what emotional potency is embedded in those lines.

p. Throughout the rest of the album, Graham remains earnest without coming off as forced. The instrumentals also stay fresh with the unique combination of the droning background guitar, accordion and that other simple but vibrant guitar line that peeks in and out of several tracks. All of these elements become more prominent and more savory upon repeated listening.

p. This is an album that is worth listening to several times over. The initially hidden and surprising aspects, such as the persistent piano key or the vocal and instrumental combinations, reveal themselves after a time and add to the enjoyment and understanding of the listener. The Twilight Sad plays wonderfully textured music deserving of these repeat listens. Many will find themselves compelled to play this album repeatedly, and one should in order to fully appreciate the many subtleties of the band’s sound.

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