The Twilight Sad
The Twilight Sad are mind-blowing.
You get out of their gig and you need 15 minutes to reconnect with the external world and 15 hours to realize it still has a sound, it’s just you cannot hear it for a while.
Earsplitting loud, intense as few bands in activity are. In a word an unmissable experience.
2009: the Law is ratified, now. “Scotland rules”. It’s for real.
Three of the five bands I have in mind (I am sure there are more out there) are on Fat Cat records. A Brighton independent label which is spotting the best music from United Kingdom. Praise to them!
The difference among these bands is on the instruments they play and where the balance needle between deep singing and guitar feedback is set.
The bands not on Fat Cat, are more arranged and lyrical. My Latest Novel, which the faithful readers of Live on 35mm have already met here some weeks ago; and the luckiest may have enjoyed live.
The Phantom Band, younger, with an album containing a single Island which is one of my favourite song of the year.
The three bands on Fat Cat are Frightened Rabbit with one of the most acclaimed album of 2008, the newcomers, with a bizarre name and an incredible dense sound: We Were Promised Jetpack and them, The Twilight Sad.
The music formula is not new (and not new to Scotland too). A combination of beautiful, deep, intense songwriting of the best school (I am thinking at American Music Club there could be something more appropriate slipping off my mind), which gets painted over, covered, overwhelmed by layer of beautiful, deep, intense loud guitars and rowdy group jams. Call it shoegaze, Post-Rock, whatever you have in mind, it doesn’t matter. The result is outstanding and The Twilight Sad are, at the moment, the one best mastering this balance.
I am not in Glasgow, so I don’t know precisely how the scene there worked out, but likely while one was playing the others where drinking a pint in the same pub. Such a consistent trend linked to the same city hasn’t been seen in rock since Seattle late 80s.
We will see if Glasgow late 00s will have the same commercial success of “grunge”. With such a strong Scottish accent is difficult but if Glasvegas managed to export glaswegian to Las Vegas, it is not impossible that more genuine songs with more powerful arrangements could as well.
Not that important, not obsessed to spot the next big thing. As long as the “thing” is great today, I enjoy it. If it’s gonna be big in the future, well done to you guys.
The Twilight Sad have been around for a couple of years now. They have an outstanding album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, out in 2007. It followed an EP, The Twilight Sad , and was followed by another EP, Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did, in which they rework three songs and add two new ones.
To complete the discography, there is a limited edition CD mixing live, demo and rarities. It used to be sold at live gigs and has the best title of the bunch so far: Killed My Parents and Hit the Road.
Quite a lot of stuff for such a young band, isn’t it?
Part of it is for-fans-only material, a sign of a band very good on mastering the art of “cult following”. Go to one of their gig and see yourself what rock-devotion means. It is also a sign that the creativity peak hasn’t abandoned them in the past 3 years.
If you are not into The Twilight Sad (be sure you will be soon) start with the LP and will not be disappointed. Be quick.
In about a month, Forget the Night Ahead, their second full lenght album is out.
Beyond the title, few more things are known from interviews and rumours.
James Graham, the singer, expressed an interesting concept during recordings:
“… One thing that I can promise is that the lyrics are very dark, but you might have to look into them a bit to realise. They are mainly based around things that have happened to me over the past two years, revolving mainly around losing people and being none too proud or happy with myself about my antics and situations I’ve found myself in. So if you’re looking for a record with a lot of hope and happy songs then fuck off, ‘cause you wont find it here with us! Maybe on the third album when we all have coke and heroin addictions things will start to look a bit brighter!”
and again more recently on a Drowned in Sound in depth where he points out in a single sentence what I have been trying to say with the last 500 words:
“We wanted to try and create a balance between melody and aggression, which on the surface might seem contradictory but I think that’s what defines us as a band, certainly as far as playing live goes at any rate.”
My Latest Novel violinist Laura McFarlane plays on a couple of tracks, The Room and That Birthday Present.
A couple of other are on youtube:
Reflection of the Television is the opening song and has a brilliant bass line pulsing over a layer of noisy guitar, quite a tasty starter.
The second track and first single (out now on 7″) I Became a Prostitute works the other way around. Guitar is over everything else until the singing arrives to balance.
I don’t know how it sounds to English-speaking listeners, but to my Italian, James Graham Scottish accent has a sort of exotic added quality. This must be the first time “exotic” goes with “Scottish”.
If this is not enough, you are difficult to please. Fact.
I have one more, though. A friend, who is into the business enough to have listened to the entire new album told me that: “The Twilight Sad second album is the best album of the last five years, it will blow away the rest of the music scene as son as it is out!”
If The Twilight Sad recordings are good, their live reputation is already legendary.
They are one of those few live bands that make you not forget a concert.
A peculiar stage presence. At the same time cold and passionate, enthralling and intimidating. Not the kind of band you expect from the alternative-rock cliché.
What makes their performances acclaimed is clearly not the look, but the capability of expanding their sound. Don’t expect to listen to a live rendition of the record. Expect the songs to levitate into multi-dimensionality. At an ear-splitting, neighbour-complaining, police-calling volume.
If you plan to follow the entire tour, consider a pair of good earplugs. If you want to experience the real thing for once ignore them and threat yourself with a hurricane of decibels and a night of tinnitus. It’s worth.
The Twilight Sad for this gig are road testing the new stuff in preparation of a long USA tour throughout September and October.
On stage expect no cool indie-fashion, no smiles, no words, no eye catching with the audience. Deeply immersed into the music, the relationship with the fans is mediated only through the music with the essential contribution of the “noise”.
The singer, James Graham, is the focal point. Immersed into his world, turned towards his mates, he follows any accent coming out of his monitor. No concession to the public (cold) but very much there for it (passionate). Close into his thoughts, staring away (intimidating) with a voice telling warm stories (enthralling).
He made me focus two of my favourite things in singers.
A deep voice and not playing instruments. From Joy Division‘s Ian Curtis to Matt Berninger of The National it fits my taste.
Andy MacFarlane is on guitar, if you doubt he is the name to remember, check the guitar amplifier and try to read the reminder taped on it. His style can shift from absolute lyricism to furious blasts in nanoseconds. He is the spine of the sound.
Result is not random but very harmonious. There must be long days and nights of studio rehearsal to get to such a perfect empathy.
Rehearsals which, they confess, happen at the same deafening volume. That is the reason behind it, it is the way their way to play.
Craig Orzel is on bass, you don’t see him a lot on these pictures because he was standing on the dark side of the stage. Mark Devine on Drums complete the rhythm section. He follows James Grahan throughout the show.
Everyone is following him. He is the conductor, the verses he sings (or whispers, or screams) lead the band.
I can’t see no setlist. Emotional, absorbed, sympathetic bands don’t need it.
I guess about half of tonight set was made of new songs. They smoothly mixed with the old hits and sound perfect wit the other giving rise to an uninterrupted flow of favourites without weak points.
Next to me two guys, who must have passed their teen-age for a couple of decades, are so much into the band that spent the night clinging to James’ monitor dancing to the waves of Andy’s guitar. Swaying and risking for a couple of times to collapse to the floor with half of the amplification. All this while singing any verse by heart. It’s like the lovers of instrumental post-rock beyond their favourite music finally found the words to identify.
It is rare to see such an emotional reaction to a band beyond teenagers’ hormonal infatuation for some Peter Doherty‘s supposed sex-appeal.
Sadly it ends. Even more sadly there is no new album to buy yet, so we are all stuck to the old material for another month.
I resisted from buying the 7″ of I Became a Prostitute.
This was one of the toughest gig I ever photographed.
Basically a very dark room with only a bright spotlight over the head of the singer, from the ceiling, centre of the stage.
In such conditions high contrasted images are the unavoidable output, with the further problem of the light/shadow patterns having an unnatural angle.
One advantage of the night was that I could photograph the entire show. Instead of shooting more, I took some time to study the stage presence and understanding which were the best places to shot.
Without a pit I didn’t have a lot to move.
Further problem, in very dark conditions focusing is almost impossible. I couldn’t see enough through the viewfinder, not counting that the subject, of course, moves.
A useful tip I use in this situation is to memorize some key distances to fixed object and use them as a reference. A mic head, a sign on the floor a cable. Point them check on the lens the distance and use that setting when the subject is approximately there.
Don’t forget darkness also means wide aperture and very limited depth of field, a wide angle would help.
James Graham is the main subject tonight. He has a magnetic presence and the rest of the band is too dark to get something out of the shadows.
Since he doesn’t play any instrument, I focused on his face trying which translate in major use of a portrait lens and few wideangle to add some features of a peculiare body language. He is not static while he sings. He moves around, kneels down, bends, looks up. Very absorbed in the role, very convincing hence quite photogenic. In the end I believe the odd lighting suits him well.
A difficult set, another challenging experience, which is what I enjoy.