Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Physics for Poets: The Twilight Sad "Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters"

I find it so rewarding when an album can completely catch me by surprise these days. To be perfectly honest, I feel odd listening to such sad bastard music without feeling like such a sad bastard myself. Maybe it's because the goal of a band like The Twilight Sad isn't so much to bring you down, but perhaps simply to examine the fall.

Front man James Graham writes sad, sorrowful tales of adolescence. Throughout The Twilight Sad's debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters there is bitterness and pain and loss. However, within in these prose there is also a clarity of spirit and heart that cannot be ignored. This elevates The Twilight Sad's work to a surprising level of maturity and acceptance that is immediately recognizable and massively rewarding.

Thematically, musically, lyrically...there's really nothing new here. The album's sweeping sound and grand wall of white noise wears its shoegaze tendencies on its sleeve. Graham, while tender and eloquent, has a limited range that becomes evident fairly early on in the LP. The songs unfold in simple and delicate fashion with little mystery and mostly expected catharsis. The unique thing about The Twilight Sad is the way they elevate these familiar elements and give to them a more accomplished sense of resonance than one would ever expect. They accomplish this with stark sincerity and an almost naive optimism that unexpectedly shines from underneath the stormy surface of the album.

Graham's ridiculously thick Scottish accent is just a wee bit jarring at first, but becomes refreshing after a while. The fact that so many bands no longer feel the need to hide their accents anymore is actually encouraging. So, as Graham lays down these crisp vocals with not a hint of pretension, not a hint of posturing, not a hint of deception, you can hear him all the more clear when he takes you into this deliberately painful world filled with past lives and stinging regret.

If nothing else, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters is a minor masterpiece in terms of atmosphere as well as control. So many times it seems the album will simply start spinning its wheels and drone on musically and lyrically, losing its purpose and formation. Instead, slow hands guide the work in just the right direction, evoking just enough empathy to make it vital; enough sympathy to make it real; enough life to make it hurt.

*You can hear cuts from the album here.

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