Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review: The Twilight Sad - Forget the Night Ahead (* * * *)

Four-piece rock outfit The Twilight Sad are one of the foremost bands among what appears, to me at least, to be a recent explosion of Scottish rock 'n' roll acts emerging into the indie mainstream (for lack of a better term). That's not to say Scotland ever stopped producing noteworthy musical exports, but between this year and last, we've seen many young acts such as Glasvegas, Broken Records, and We Were Promised Jetpacks follow similar formulas - including big, loud guitars and even bigger-voiced singers - to similar amounts of acclaim and attention, especially in the UK. With their sophomore effort, Forget the Night Ahead, The Twilight Sad further establish their prominence among their peers with a strong set of songs that nearly reaches the bar set by their debut.

Though the band hasn't undergone any serious reinvention since a couple years ago, the music is decidedly darker and denser this time around, as well as slightly more polished, building on the already grandiose songwriting found on Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. Songs like the dramatic "Made to Disappear" and the explosive "The Birthday Present" are good examples, with both the emotional intensity and production values taken up a notch or two for an arena-ready rock sound. And where their first album was obviously focused on memories from a miserable childhood, Forget the Night Ahead seems to deal with more adult concerns - though with singer/songwriter James Graham's frequently opaque lyrics, it can be difficult to tell exactly what's the matter. The feelings he conveys however - of regret, sadness, and longing - are clearly transferred from the band to the listener. It's not exactly difficult to imagine the despair behind lead single "I Became a Prostitute," shown as much through the group's characteristically bleak song titles as the combination of distorted guitars and desperate lyrics.

What looks on paper, and occasionally sounds in practice, to be the same stylistic approach used by many other bands is somehow more potent in the hands of The Twilight Sad. The boys seem to have a natural ability to create tension and genuinely dark emotion while rarely sounding over-dramatic or heavy handed. Their songs are dynamic, but not just in the start-quiet-end-loud kind of way. The layers of guitar build into fits of rage and then subside into muted melancholy, the drums enter as thunderous exclamation points at times and then stay absent for long stretches, and Graham's thickly accented voice is both charming and menacing throughout each tune. Also, some of these songs are just undeniably great; "I Became a Prostitute," "That Room," and "The Neighbour's Can't Breathe" are especially strong. Forget the Night Ahead is a clear avoidance of the sophomore slump and another solid addition to this exciting young band's small catalog.