Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Album Review: The Twilight Glad?

Grade: 89%

What the Others Think:

Pitchfork Score: 8.6
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: N/A
Coke Machine Glow Score: 64% (ouch!)

(It's Nicole here... Long time no see. The following is a review I submitted to the Pitchfork Music Festival review contest. Fingers crossed!)

For a band that purports to be the Twilight Sad, it’s been a while since I’ve heard an album so full of joy. Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters is a blissfully dark debut that wallows in the delights and despairs of childhood. What listener couldn’t relate to that?

If the album art of a child gleefully holding a pillow over another child’s face fails to signal the dreariness afoot, one can consider the titles: “Cold Days from the Birdhouse,” “And She Would Darken the Memory,” “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard.” Then there are the lyrics themselves, speaking of the apathy of parents, the despair following the death of a child, the pain of leaving the family nest. When James Graham shrieks, “The kids are on fire in the bedroom,” one recalls the Arcade Fire’s similarly dark yet triumphant debut Funeral, in which Win Butler wails about children dying in the snow: “Look at them go, look at them go!”

Graham’s thick Scottish accent might alienate some listeners, but its heaviness matches the weight of the music – and the subject matter – seamlessly. Although at times indecipherable, the lyrics strike the listener “like a knife in your chest.” The guitar hits you like a knife in your chest, too; at times heavy and bold, at times dissonant and dizzying.

Indeed the music is sprawling, and though the term is overused by many a music journalist, atmospheric. “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard” swirls and builds, priming us for the subsequent three tracks, the album’s centerpiece. “Talking with Fireworks” puts the spotlight on drummer Mark Devine, backed by My-Bloody-Valentine-esque guitar. In “Mapped by What Surrounded Them,” the theme of innocence marred by experience is encapsulated by the protagonist’s choice of playthings: “And she’s cutting herself with stain glass window, and she’s playing with her toys.” The track is perhaps the best example of the band’s aptitude for economy: at just over four minutes, the listener encounters a dense sonic experience that never feels rushed, anemic. Consider the twinklings that conclude this track and many others – the Twilight Sad understand that you can’t run this hard for this long without a cool-down lap.

Finally we encounter the album’s seventh track, “And She Would Darken the Memory.” As the title suggests, this is the darkest song on the album, and the band’s masterstroke. When Graham wails over fierce drum beats and heavy bass, we want to wail along with him. When he sings, “I’m putting in the boot tonight,” we know to get out of the way.

How can such a dreary album fill listeners with glee? Perhaps it’s simply because it's exceptional music. But maybe it’s also because of the common experience echoed here: the inseparable pleasures and pains of growing up, of growing old. Perhaps it’s because The Twilight Sad know what it’s like to be “so far from home,” and because they can say it so much more eloquently than we can.

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