I’m one of those people that strongly dislikes stereotypes and feel pretty bad about myself if I support one, but I’m going to break my rule here and say, there’s something about the Scottish brogue that lends itself well to dark and gloomy music. Perhaps it’s because of the typical portrayal of Scotland by British news channels, or the pictures of winter mornings and evenings in darkness, either way, it fits. Far from being a negative characteristic, it’s this certain Scottishness that makes The Twilight Sad’s third album No One Can Ever Know sound so natural.
I remember watching The Twilight Sad open for Biffy Clyro a couple of years back in Bristol, and while appreciating their sound, I wasn’t too fussed about them; different kind of band for a person in a Biffy Clyro state of mind. I knew their latest effort No One Can Ever Know would probably be good, but thankfully for me, it’s an absorbing and interesting listen. It’s a gloomy and sparse affair that deserves to be released while most of us are in the midst of the desolate winter weather, so the overall mood of the album matches the (probable) mood of the listener. I found looking at grey skies outside accentuated many of the songs.
The key to No One Can Ever Know’s sparse nature is in the synth work. Regardless of whether drums, guitar and bass are driving along, the odd splash of synthesizer in a song changes the dynamic. It’s almost as if that synthesizer is operating in its own little bubble. Take “Dead City” as an example: as it opens its pretty sprightly and that tempo never really drops throughout the song, and yet whenever the synths come in they seem to slow the song down and leave a chill in the proverbial air. I guess it’s because they never come in on the beat and they never seem to leave on it, but somehow, that gives everything a minimalist feel. “Don’t Move” is abundant with synths that don’t really go away. They follow a simple melodic pattern, and because of how prevalent and simple they are they take away from the rest of the instrumentation (in a good way) and highlight the minimalism in the song.
That’s minimalism and sparsity covered, but there’s another distinct attribute to No One Can Ever Know: darkness. This album easily reaches ‘pitch black’ on the gloom-rating scale. “Nil” is menacing enough with its disconnected drum patterns and subwoofer-type bass notes, but when James Graham takes the vocals up an octave there’s a real sense of pure desperation. “Not Sleeping” doesn’t kick into gear until at least midway through the song, and so the bass drum keeps a continuous, lonely beat throughout while the synths stay the same leaving you wonder where on earth it’s going to go next; it’s pretty dour when it does take-off, but that sense of foreboding is scary. Heck, even the title of the album hints at something bad.
After listening to the previous two albums, it’s pretty neat to have a band like The Twilight Sad that are quite comfortable with shedding their skin every so often, especially when that shedding feels natural. They do doom and gloom very well, and more importantly, offer their own unique slant on the sound rather than sound like Joy Division clones. If they’re going to keep changing, everything on an album needs to be engrossing and interesting to keep fans onside, two boxes The Twilight Sad most certainly tick on No One Can Ever Know.