ALBUM REVIEWS: The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

Written for the 405

No One Can Ever Know is, easily, the best thing The Twilight Sad have ever done. Just so that we all know where we stand. The Scots have made the best, most refined, most resonant, most immediate record of their not-unsubstantial career so far. It’s also, easily, the most isolated, dark, and plain sad album they’ve made. And this is from a band oft-described as “perennially unhappy”.

The band’s previous two albums were fairly downcast, yes, but there was some sense of belonging amidst all the dark horrible shit going on in otherwise idyllic small towns (Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters) or in the big bad city (Forget The Night Ahead). No One Can Ever Know is an album that documents feelings of loneliness, longing, and manic-depressive mood swings between visceral anger and industrial-strength sadness; these contradictions are probably best expressed in the lyrics to opener “Alphabet”: “So sick to death of the sight of you now / Safe to say I never wanted you more.”

Press for this album cites Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral as an influence, and it shows. So, yes, it’s a bloody downbeat album, so far as the content goes. Musically they “were already progressing toward a sparser sound, [one] with a colder, slightly militant feel,” as said guitarist/songwriter Andy MacFarlane. The comparative warmth of the traditional instrumentation of their debut gone, the shoegaze noise from the second album stripped, this is the bare bones of the Twilight Sad.

The drums pound and reverberate, analogue synths hum like hospital equipment, and basslines rumble beneath the surface. It’s not hyperbolic to recognise and point out shades of Joy Division in this new, sparse sound; not only the sonic similarities, but the way the songs are put together (and produced) evoke the central themes that James Graham sings about in his thick but versatile Scottish brogue. In fact, again similarly to Joy Division, the drums slip sometimes in almost syncopated rhythms; you can imagine yourself almost dancing, especially to closer “Kill It In The Morning” – if you managed to ignore the lyrics.

It is, frankly, a phenomenal record. The perhaps previously broader net of the Twilight Sad’s influences, taking in everything from shoegaze to indie rock to folk to industrial to krautrock, has been made tauter, they are more focused. And in doing so, they’ve found themselves in a perfect storm of miserablist pop music that would make Trent Reznor proud.

8.5/10

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