Secret Meeting score: 90
by Chris Hatch
Over the course of 10 years The Twilight Sad have built an almost cult-like following, in spite of a constant shifting of their sound. Previous album, Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, was their attempt to pull ideas from all their previous albums together into a coherent whole, and this latest release follows in the same vein – with the band sounding stronger and more accessible than ever.
In the almost half a decade since Nobody…, the band has replaced a member, signed to a new label, and played much-heralded support slots with The Cure. This has seen the band grow in confidence – usually masked by elements of noise-rock and experimentation, the production on the album is more forward and up front and allows their songwriting prowess to shine.
Album opener, [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs], is epically cinematic. Carried along by an undercurrent of lush synths and sequencers, with guitar parts that call to mind some of Interpol’s earlier album tracks, James Graham’s vocals – which in the past have been lost in the mix – are no longer muddied.
Lyrically, the album deals with the weightier subjects that Graham often wrestles with – loss, depression, feelings of inferiority – but a song like The Arbor, which may have been starker and more stripped back on previous outings, ends up sounding shimmery and beautiful despite the morose subject matter.
Indeed, this is a compromise that the band seem to have mastered over the course of the album. On both VTr and I/m Not Here [Missing Face], the trademark tick-boxes are there – a tight, Krautrock rhythm section, introspective lyrics, and an urgent bass line – yet the usual creeping, sinister synths are a shade lighter and lend the songs more focus, and even a hint of optimism and hope.
Auge_Maschine is The Twilight Sad at their most epic, with a chorus borrowing from the more uplifting side of early 80s synthpop. Keep It All To Myself is a welcome change in song structure, and comes before a duo of songs that start to verge on sounding formulaic. Indeed, Girl Chewing Gum and Let/s Get Lost are both strong songs in their own right, but are the least adventurous, and over the course of an album that lasts 47 minutes they threaten to outstay their welcome. Thankfully final track, Videograms, is one of the strongest and boldest songs on the album, and finds Graham at his least abstract and most direct.
When a band has a career that lasts over ten years, there is often talk of them selling-out, writing arena rock records, or generally mellowing with age. And while this album is more accessible, and their most well-produced yet, it is still a visceral, honest, distillation of everything that has been good about the band over their career, and has resulted in their most confident sounding record to date – maybe even their best.