The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

When you first listen to “Alphabet”, the opening track on The Twilight Sad’s latest release, after a few seconds you begin waiting for the drop. The coming and fading tones, repetitious drums and detached singing all lead to the impression that at some point, the song will collapse under it’s own (lack of) weight into the expected Twilight Sad “wall of noise”. What you’re listening to isn’t exactly a build, but at the same time you think that it must, must be going somewhere. Then you check the run time and see you’re ¾ though the song. You tell yourself that’s fine – the song isn’t bad in the slightest, or dull. It’s just uneventful. It’s a song that you imagine will act as a good introductory piece to an album where The Twilight Sad explained they were trying new things with No One Can Ever Know. The second song, “Dead City”, while sounding wildly different, has a very similar structure. It’s a long, unevolving song with a more industrial flare. It’s repetitious like the first, though all-around a bit less pleasant to listen to. The two opening songs, while having different sounds and styles, are both (mostly) unchanging throughout their run times, never really going anywhere and repeating the same musical phrases and lyrical ideas. When the third song starts though, is when you realize…

This is an entire album of songs like that. And it doesn’t work.

This is a problem which, I must insist, is not as simple as the band failing to appease expectations, and mine is not an opinion of reactionary backlash because the band changed their style. The “wall of sound” I praised the band for is terrific when used correctly, but it would be pushing it to attempt the style for the band’s third consecutive LP in a row. The problem is an overwhelming lack of momentum (and even direction) on the album.

Take, for instance, “Kill it in the Morning”, an echoey, sludge-reminiscent song that acts as the record’s closing track. When this track was released online a couple of months ago, the distinct reaction I had was confusion. Like the previous songs I mentioned, it too suffers the same problem of lack of direction (and, as-is one of the worst examples, a lack of any outright identifying characteristics). However, unlike most of the other songs on the album, it does change (or at least, it adds something to itself). Eventually, subdued synth takes the foreground and gives the song some much-needed and appropriate momentum. The problem is, this change comes four and a half minutes into a song that’s nearly six. Any change that does occur on No One Can Ever Know takes so long to actually happen that it makes it seem almost inconsequential – as much as I genuinely, genuinely enjoy the closing synths of “Kill it in the Morning”, can I honestly say it’s worth listening to everything before it to get to? No, not really. The fact that when this track was originally released, it was being sold as the albums finisher struck me as a grim sign, but I have to say No One Can Ever Know still struck me off guard.

This isn’t to say that No One Can Ever Know is badly done. In fact, in some cases it works. “Don’t Look At Me” is a song where the static feeling of the music really suits the subject matter, and James Graham really commits to the song, making the lyrics seem as heartfelt and honest as ever. Ultimately, though, it’s still a song that follows the same formula as the rest of the album, just a tad more successfully. “Another Bed” is the only other song I would consider to outright “work” – a tightly structured song making good use of (yet more) synth and an almost off-key chorus. Still, even these two songs feel like they could have had their runtimes shortened – in fact, it seems a good way to fix No One Can Ever Know in its entirety would be to reduce the length of each song by about two minutes. However, at its current length and lack of arresting content, the album feels like a chore to sit through.

I take no joy in saying that at all, either, being a fan of the band since their 2009 release Forget the Night Ahead and having the fortune to interview to James Graham. I’ll never, ever criticise a band for legitimately wanting to change or take a new direction. That said, as No One Can Ever Know demonstrates, reinventing your sound is pointless when you lack inspiration.