The Twilight Sad - Forget The Night Ahead


Set 20 2009, 20h25

Here we go again, yet another journal about The Twilight Sad. This one is about a hugely anticipated and important matter: Forget the Night Ahead.

Anxiety takes hold. What will it sound like? All this anticipation can't possibly bode well for an album. What has changed besides the style of the artwork and the not-so-poetic song titles? I'll start off by noting that instead of the highly regarded, retro, indie pleasing, style, they've moved on to something a bit more angsty in the forms of . If you are struggling to pin down what sounds different with this album, I'll say that no effect pedals were used here. It was all created in the studio. If you visit the label synopsis for the album, you'll find a small explanation on how they worked this out and a tiny line towards the end that names early 80’s The Cure, Neu!, Wire and Shellac as a good comparison point for this record. From what I've read, guitarist/music composer/producer Andy MacFarlane happens to be obsessed with krautrock. He even made you two mixtapes to help in your introduction, in case you barely know anything about it.

This is quite a bold move that I think will result in a love it or hate it reaction from people who are already familiar with their work, but as a whole it's not that far off the path of their debut album Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. After such a long time listening to all those heavy delayed pedals it may take a little while for this record to fully sink in, an adjustment period. Someone out there knows I struggled for a couple of days with this one. Let's tackle this on a track-by-track pace, shall we?

Fans of their Here, it never snowed EP surely wondered whether this wonderful release would have any long-term effect in their music. Your prayers have been answered in opening track Reflection of the Television, where a tremoloed guitar, constant drumming and thick bass line densely build up from a slow tempo to a major wreckage of a song. This accompanied with some slightly unflitching, almost deadpan, vocals and a repeating line of "There's people downstairs" will make you feel quite paranoid, like impending doom is lurking over your shoulder until the very end of the song when all hell breaks loose, the song turns to a very sinister and heavy noise... then it ends. In quite a brilliant way, really.

According to a recent track-by-track dissection by Andy, they wanted to have "The Cure/Nine Inch Nails kind of drums and repetitive bass line going all the way through, holding it together, and have noise drones sitting over the top of it" and achieve a more "sparse sound". To others it will evoke something like Joy Division's Heart and Soul.

Lead single I Became a Prostitute storms in with a rhythm guitar that resembles Interpol - The New engaged in an epic battle with a distorted guitar buried in the background to produce a song that sounds aching, with an angry undertone, and an oddly intense feeling of desolation. It's just the kind of weird contrasts that make these guys stand alone in my mind.

About the awful title, they've stated that it's not about a prostitute per se, and that it is a "metaphor for becoming something that you don't want to be, you can see it happening but there is nothing you can do about it.” But then you find yourself with contradicting elements with lines like "if we do what we like then we could be with you tonight... there's a hand in the till, still believing what she sells" , the video and a what-the-heck-does-that-mean line like "you are the bearer of a womb without love". Case is still open for this one.

Seven Years of Letters mixes the quiet-loud dynamic, a first time rocking guitar solo, a downright weird - yet captivating - freak out rhythm section in the middle of the song and a slow melody meets feedback fade out. While Made to Disappear goes through the effort of hiding a beautiful and lonely song under a ton of relentlessly loud guitars, all performed in true Twilight Sad fashion. These songs show a formula that on paper looks like it could had been taken out of their debut album, yet sounds more detailed and a testament that even when this album closes in on their beginnings, there's plenty of growth to show after two years.

There's a small storm growing in the instrumental Scissors. It starts off sounding like a few snowflakes are hitting the ground with a mysteriously ethereal vocal-like melody, that brings Mogwai to mind, then builds up until it shallows it all and you are trapped in a mighty blizzard that suddenly retreats into nothingness. I think they were looking for the same effect The Weather Is Bad had on the Killed My Parents And Hit The Road compilation, a tumultuous splitting chapter full of abstract noises and loops.

Keeping on the compilation track, following song The Room was previously featured on it as Untitled #27. If you've heard the acoustic version then you know what's in store for you: an oblique and beautiful song that builds up to an almost heart-stopping, dry-swallowing climax. It has been enhanced for the occasion with some mean spirited violin, provided by the lovely Laura MacFarlane from the equally scottish My Latest Novel. The other side of the coin to the early, overly melodramatic, live version. And, if I may say so, a strong contender for the best thing this band has achieved to date.

That Birthday Present is a very uptempo and frenetic song that sounds like And She Would Darken the Memory and Talking With Fireworks/Here, It Never Snowed went out for a night of irresponsible partying. For the down part, it mostly sounds like a guitar is yelling at you and it doesn't carry the same uplifting effect that Talking with Fireworks had on the debut, giving an anti-climatic contrast with The Room. This is where the track order seems to lose congruency. Instead of giving space for The Room to feel like the centerpiece that it is, it feels trapped in between two highly claustrophobic and contradicting songs.

To reassert the anti-climatic feeling of That Birthday Present, the following song is the quasi-instrumental Floorboards Under the Bed. It seems to pick up on The Room, with a open room vocal recording about some boy throwing rocks but, true to Twilight Sad norm, it can't be all lo-fi, a guitar feedback breaks in until it gives way to repetitive piano notes. At first this song may bring FA&FW title track to mind, but half-way through it shifts into a more distinctive song of its own. Unlike most pop-driven bands with transitional instrumental, there's something evocative that makes this feel like an actual song, not some spare unfinished notes put together. It could soundtrack an aimless walk through early morning fog. There's just something peaceful, beautiful and unexpected about it.

And even more unexpected is Interrupted. The most pop rock song this band has recorded to date. Quite the accessible melody, still the krautrock-ish guitar lingers in the background. Sounds to me like they want to dirty this up, or keep the theme going, but this is a straight-up pop rock song. A pretty good one, with some insanely catchy lyrics about sending dogs after people, beating them to the ground and then burying them. To quote Andy: "It’s accessible, if you don't mind that". It's soooooo catchy, but not too-in-your-face catchy. It goes on to prove they can do a little bit of everything.

Along comes The Neighbours Can't Breathe, aka Untitled #28. I've already professed my love for this song, it still remains true to its tumultuous awesome self. Now you can hear the vocals a lot better and be able to tell that the title is a line of the song (another first time): "you are happy the neighbours can't breathe" Uh?

Closing track At The Burnside comes in to give a high closing note to the album. A small roller coaster ride that starts off with low-key piano and strong vocals that settle in before all breaks loose with some heavy crashing cymbals, formless distortion and echoes. Up there with The Room for best song contender. And I'd like to note that it all clocks in under the 4 minutes mark. So yes, Twilight Sad. You can pull off heavy drone, lo-fi, catchy pop, and a song under four-minutes. Use it all at your discretion.

The big question remains: is it better than the debut? Well, it's clear to say that sophomore slump this ain't. There are things that are satisfying like a certain maturity in their sound that doesn't feel forced but a natural progression from where they've been, and better elaborated lyrics - still as oblique as ever. While at the same time there are some stuff I wish had not changed, as a whole the album doesn't seem to reach the levels of intensity of FA&FW and at times it feels a bit restrained. I found some comfort in reading a recent interview where they admitted that this album "sacrifices its predecessor’s warmth for a darker ambience".

I said comfort because it's not something they've lost but done deliberately. I'm still trying to understand why they'd sacrifice something like that. It's the something that most bands wish they had but not all of them can achieve. What elevates music from merely good into something more memorable and gripping.

Earlier today, I was listening to Walking for Two Hours, possibly my favorite song off the debut, and I still found mesmerizing how the gentle delivery of lines like "you are so far from home and you are wailing" set up the scene for a guitar melody that sounded like it was actually wailing. I think that's the "je ne sais quois element" missing from this album that would have made it soar well above the debut. There are still plenty of memorable moments, though, and I must admit it took me a couple of months to fall head over heels for FA&FW. Not to say that their debut was perfect and unmatchable. It was far from it, there were quite few flaws that in the end managed to somehow blend in with its charms. That's why, in the meantime, I'm putting both albums on the same level. Time can only tell whether I will prefer this album to the other one. I still believe these guys are on their way to something even bigger. Time will only tell about that one as well.

Alternate tracklist

To solve the dysfunctional track order, a couple of people took it out on their shoutbox a couple of days ago and RAngelgrinder came up with a more enjoyable order that I took the liberty to only alter in one song. I've already tested this and I like it very much. Feel free to reorder your songs as well.

Reflection of the Television
I Became a Prostitute
Seven Years of Letters
The Neighbours Can't Breathe
Floorboards Under the Bed
The Room
That Birthday Present
Made to Disappear
At The Burnside

So, how do you feel about this album? Is it growing on you? Better than expected? A complete disappointment? I'd like to know.

++ Plus ++
> The Skinny Magazine Interview: It was all whirlwind - Aug 09
> Track-by-track recount for The Skinny Magazine
> Drowned in Sound interview - May 09
> Pitchfork interview - May 09
> Fly TV Acoustic Session Video: Made to Disappear + Walking for Two Hours
> Video excerpt + MP3s of their show at T in The Park 09


  • pecusita

    [b]ADDENDUM[/b] There comes a certain moment when you have to evaluate something based on its own merits and not your preconceived notions of what should had been. I think that when you wait for something for too long it reaches a point where you don't even know what you were expecting in the first place. This album is a lot more selective in its target audience but given to the right ears it could truly flourished. It's basically as dark as a black hole lost in outer space. Where FA&FW often shed a glimmer of hope upon you, FTNA would probably send a jolt of electricity. I'm sure that somewhere in the middle there's something for you. Now, stop wasting your time with my ramblings and read the following review:

    Out 2 2009, 3h15
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