The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
Not to be tasted casually, The Twilight Sad’s debut album asks much of the listener. Formed in 2003 near Glasgow, this voltaic four piece have delivered a record of almost brutal intensity. ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ carries none of the generic soft-option cop-out anthemic drone currently being sold as alternative guitar music. Instead, these boys have have the good sense to take their influences from a different time and place altogether; on their Myspace site, under the ‘Sounds Like’ link they simply have a picture of their own records (a pre-album EP and their current single.) They sound, such is the implication, like themselves. Quite.
You will want details. A friend, intrigued by the cover and the name, asked what it sounded like. I said : It’s a bit like running from a hurricane across a dark moor and finding shelter in a cave … only for the cave to collapse around you. Then I said : No, hang on. Its very formal romantic miserabilsm reminds me of The Blue Nile … if they had opted for over-driven guitars instead of piano and electronics. In the end I went for : It sounds like four young Scottish guys making very loud, but often very tender and very soulful, guitar music that doesn’t quite get so abstract as to exclude … but don’t go expecting Snow Patrol or Travis. Okay ? He was happy with that, I think. The Twilight Sad make music that is at once harsh but beautiful, confrontational but invigorating.
It would, of course, be as easy as pie to throw in the names of a couple of revered guitar noiseniks whose seminal recordings guarantee being name-checked every time a new band pushes it to 11 and throws song structure into the blender. I’ll avoid being quite so lazy or obvious but it’s fair to say if you bought albums on, say, Creation or 4AD in the late 80s you may well find The Twilight Sad touch your aesthetic sensibilities. I say “touch” – I mean “kick”; ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ is a stark and pulverising experience. Opener ‘Cold Days from the Birdhouse’ starts quietly enough, low strummed guitar, James Graham’s plaintive vocals. When it comes, with tension unfolding, the shattering squall of guitars and drums is a relief as much as a shock. The pattern, as much as there is one, continues. A groove, a throb, tremors, tumult. One minute I’m delighting in the abstract construct, the next, as the subtlest of chord changes detonates, I’m wondering if they’re actually not just really gifted songwriters making pop in a different colour. A couple more reference points come to mind – both Codeine’s ‘The White Birch’ and early Ride (‘Dreams Burn Down’) share a lineage with these riff-y ructions. You will apply your own comparions, no doubt.
Whatever, this debut simply burns - I must have played it every day for a month. Every time, thinking I’ll just have a quick blast, it sucks me in for for the full course. Every time, I peel another layer; every listen throws up another mystery. Like the records you come to truly love over time, ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ registers deeply but continues to linger just out of reach. It demands work. The song titles should intrigue at first. ‘Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite so Hard’. ‘That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’. ‘Talking With Fireworks/Here it Never Snowed’. You see ? Not a record that will lend itself to casual pub chat – “I like that ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’, me. It's class.” James Graham, The Twilight Sad’s impassioned singer, whose brogue appears to have given him more column inches than his rich and grainy voice, sings of despair, regret, loss. An oblique lyrical approach complements the minimalist rocking. ”And your red sky at night won’t follow me” hooks you into opener ‘Cold Days from the Birdhouse’. Words that speak of shattered hearts, words that remain sweet with intrigue. On the album’s most immediate track, the pulsing ‘Mapped by What Surrounded Them’, Graham sings “These walls, these walls are filled with blame …” As much of an alternative as one might hope for right now, this formidable work soars and sings. The Twilight Sad are to be reckoned with. Melancholy and majesty.