Twilight Sad's Uplifting Melancholy Separates Them From Their Scottish Peers

Twilight Sad
Twilight Sad
Nicola Collins

It's tempting to refer to 2014's Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, the Twilight Sad's fourth LP, as their return-to-guitar-rock record. Their last full-length effort, 2012's underrated No One Can Ever Know, was saddled with a similarly reductive byline: their synthesizer record.

Both are accurate-ish, but gloss over the continuity of the Twilight Sad's seven-year career, where icy, claustrophobic melodies have always been a given. If anything, Nobody's an amalgam of their previous work's highlights, or perhaps a reconciliation of their varied tendencies: their alienated and cinematic lyrical precision, the punishing noisiness of their sophomore album, and, okay, the soaring, reverbed guitars. Perhaps the biggest draw across all of their records remains frontman James Graham's vocals, his Scottish brogue so damn thick and his Rs so rolled that it sounds like a disconsolate Scrooge McDuck covering Cure deep-cuts.

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The band's 2007 debut, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters haunts the corners of their latest with the most insistence -- having just finished a tour to celebrate that record's deluxe-edition reissue, it seems their approach to Fourteen Autumns is mirrored here. The vocals are perhaps less anthemic, and Graham sounds like he has less to prove, but it's the closest analog to Nobody, with some of the tracks (single "There's a Girl in the Corner" or the unrelenting "I Could Give You All That You Don't Want") as close to a sing-along as the Twilight Sad is ever liable to get. It's a credit to the band that they can make an album as indebted to 1980s miserablism as Nobody without ever falling into the trap of sounding like a mere retread of it.

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All of which signals good things for the trio's live show. The Twilight Sad's command of noise is one of their signposts, and Nobody proves they can work both ends of the spectrum. Standout "In Nowheres" sounds like it might've been recorded in the rusted basement of a negelcted industrial space the weeds overtook years ago, while "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep" recalls last year's pristine, orchestra-backed live effort at Paisley Abbey. No one's going to mistake Graham for a choirboy, but his vocals consistently soar to the rafters, and when he screams, he screams like it's the last chance he's ever going to have to do it. It's this dichotomy that makes the Twilight Sad so damn interesting -- the excellent but comparatively saccharine Chvrches (also from Scotland, and steadfast champions of the Twilight Sad, to be sure) seem frivolous and eager to please in comparison, even if they aren't.

But while they're uncompromising, and to some listeners "challenging," there's something uplifting in the Twilight Sad's brand of melancholy, even if I've made them sound as much fun as sanitizing a gurney after an autopsy. It's not quite the dark-eyeliner-and-leather dress-up fun of their synthy, gloom-merchant peers, nor is it the cheap emotionality that serves as the hallmark of much of the post-punk revival of late, nor is it the vacant head nodding induced by similar bands playing similar songs at similar volumes. It's close to those, but something different: something firmer, perhaps. It's something like catharsis.

The Twilight Sad play the Crescent Ballroom with fellow Scots We Were Promised Jetpacks on Sunday, November 9.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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