Music Reviews
No One Can Ever Know

The Twilight Sad No One Can Ever Know

(Fat Cat) Rating - 8/10

In popular music, it is looked down upon when music sounds, by definition, menacing. Anytime a well-respected artist makes a statement that leans toward themes that are fraught with cynicism or pessimism, they’re instantly regarded as transitional records. But they’re just mostly challenging and, in a way, very much at odds with conforming to a sound that’s pleasing. On occasion, they’re potentially hazardous at a time when such artist should be at a career peak – The Cure made the utterly agonizing (and engrossing) Pornography when they could’ve stuck to wide-eyed new wave; and to a different extent, The Smiths turned in the insolently political Meat is Murder at a time when their provocative ringleader could’ve spent the rest of his days flailing a bouquet of flowers and serenading to a fervent audience.

This type of outward aggression is always fascinating to witness, especially with well-established acts, but if you have a lack of prominence or sex appeal, odds are it’ll just make you look foolish. With his husky build and discernible facial plump, James Graham doesn’t exactly boast the most aesthetically appealing physique. His Scottish brogue and roguish looks has made him the brunt of much berating (and acclaim) ever since Cold Days in the Birdhouse made its debut; there’s no doubt he falls into the love him or hate him camp. Both ways nonchalant smirk and stoic stare, his veneer is insidious – a rare performer who openly aches very inward thoughts in the most outward manner.

Graham, along with The Twilight Sad, takes great satisfaction in writing about the eerie underbelly of the soul – deep, penetrating, and partially socio pathological accounts about the things most of us may think of and never dare to tell. No One Can Ever Know doesn’t really change in that respect, except in how they’ve decided to recalibrate their usually foreboding themes with a more tenebrous palette   – as the doomy keyboard lines and hammering percussion in Dead City imply, this form of nervy, unruly noise was begging for The Twilight Sad. Especially ever since they put a ban on the accordion after being subjected to a shock wave of ambiguous Arcade Fire comparisons, which the band reproached with much contempt.

It could be that The Twilight Sad may forever distance themselves from making anything that ever comes close to rousingly sanguine, but a close listen to Don’t Move proves that old habits are hard to break. With its surging guitar licks and slight change of rhythmic pace, the song shares such a similar structure to I’m Taking the Train Home you’d think Graham would end with your green eyes turn to blue instead of I want you more than you’ll ever know; the droning key strokes are what actually exposes it. And though a trade of gleaming guitars for slathering analog synths was made, their deftness for anchoring torrential noise still comes through as invigorating. There are allusions to Sisters of Mercy in how the driving, interspersed synths of Don’t Look At Me beat out a pulsing melody with a roughened surface. In spite of this, the song is too muscular to directly link with a silken eighties sound, and that precise quality is what has always characterized the Twilight Sad as an expansive rock band.

It’s not all just cataclysmic noise, though: the beginning to Nil provides a paused, sinister ambience with its atonal, Anton Webern resembling piano chords and orchestrated synth line until it builds up into a caterwauling anthem. Sick employs the steady, percolating guitar arpeggio of Radiohead as a wound up Graham pleas: and I’ll buy you the night/and I’ll buy you the time. Graham’s neurotic accounts really come into the fold in Another Bed, in which he intimidates: I’ll find you/ don’t worry, while a crystalline, fiery synth line throbs alongside a motorik techno beat. The track is surprisingly full of beans for a band like the Twilight Sad, and it’d be a missed opportunity if any DJ doesn’t remix it into a heady club banger.

So The Twilight Sad can’t really be accused for being nefarious hedonists – in all fairness, they’ve consistently kept to making every wretched thought count without needing to resort to any off-the-wall gimmick. Every transition they’ve made has taken them closer to a sound that matches their downtrodden bearing. And if there was any doubt, Kill it in the Morning ends with no remorse – the punishing, grubby closer doesn’t make any attempt to clean up the muck they left behind. There are no compromises to be reached, and that’s what makes No One Can Ever Know such an authoritative listen.