This 5-song, self-titled EP is a bracing distillation of what The Twilight Sad does best, marrying spare to expansive sonics with bitter, sharp, sometimes enigmatic lyrics and a powerful, emotional sing-talking delivery by James Graham, as skeletons are rattled in the old family closet.
James’s stark reminisces and recriminations are expressively wrapped in his pronounced Scottish accent, giving rise to an emotionally crippled and claustrophobic feeling – of things not spoken, of saying too much, of family secrets and repressed emotions. The lyrics are rife with vague to pointed accusations, which are parsed out piecemeal, giving room for the listener to imagine a stunted familial environment where relationships are divided into victim and perpetrator, where one person talks to the other and vice versa, conversations in an unhappy home, and a looking back at it all through the distance of time and childhood memories.
While the lyrics can be simplistic and repetitive, they also help to paint a picture of deterioration of the family with a few choice words. “The kids are on fire in the bedroom…” says it all really – whether it’s meant literally or figuratively, it sums up the mood succinctly.
The band seem to have a structural “formula” for many of their songs – and it’s effective and breath-taking. Most songs start out quietly, with vocal-based intros, and then the chorus comes in, all smashing, bashing, and crashing of guitars, drums, and cymbals, rivaling the glory of Sigur Ros in their best, most fiery moments. The cathartic racket is uplifting and expansive, on the verge of overwhelming with sound, sweeping the listener away from the harsh, earth-bound lyrics and delivery.
Three of the strongest songs from their debut album, Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters, are represented on the EP, but the slow-to-start, storming opener, “but when she left, gone was the glow” (yes, they have a thing for long, maudlin song titles) is not one of them – but it should be. The low-key beginning of James sing-talking with a clear, curling, slightly nasal, sharp accent “We’re all swimming in her glass…” and drawn out, lamenting accordion lends a false sense of security, as various background noises come in (tolling bell, city and dockside sounds). Phrases are repeated and lingered over, as James intones “…and you said to me…nothing at all…”, and then, shock, at almost two minutes into the song, the façade of calm misery gives way to an soaring acceleration of ringing guitars, cymbal shimmer, and drum smashes, changing the whole maudlin dynamic of the song to an emotional release.
The next number, “that summer, at home I had become the invisible boy”, is an album track with a slightly marching drum beat, drawn out accordion, and very disquieting, yet unassumingly-delivered lyrics. A minute and a half into the song comes the glorious, swelling racket of crashing cymbals and guitars that is tempered by the continual, steady beat and accordion notes. James practically spits out his words “…they’re sittin’ around th’ table and they’re talking behind yer back…” (images flash in the mind’s eye of an unstable home environment, based on just those few words).
Another album song, “last year’s rain didn’t fall quite so hard” is not the best choice for the EP because it’s so short, at just over two and a half minutes, with a faster drum beat and tambourine jingle, sustained accordian notes, and little odd squiggles of guitar. James’s vocals are more subdued and distant and the lyrics are repeated over and over, with eventually three different vocal lines mingling with each other, two of them pushed way in the background. A few piano notes are plunked, a there’s a little cymbal smash, but it’s hard to discern the lyrics because they’re spoken so low in the mix. The lyrics are pushed repeatedly (“She sings with a hole in her skin…I only want to say goodbye…”) and become tiresome.
The last album track, “and she would darken the memory”, is full of reverberating, chiming guitar and a steady beat, as other guitars come in, getting louder and more gloriously chiming over time. James’s vocals are slightly distant again, with long repeated phrases like “because I’m putting the boot in tonight…because I’m putting up with your constant whine”. He ends up shouting and exclaiming by the second verse, against a build up of sound, and then about three minutes into the song comes a storming guitar whirlwind and massive guitar sound, all ringing, skyward guitars and constant cymbal crashes, like a stormy ocean which quickly dissipates by the end of the song.
The final, slow-burn song, “three seconds of dead air”, is a non-album one, and once again, it should have been on the album. James’s vocals are prominent amid the wavering guitars and light accordion notes. Once again, the theme is all about family secrets, about a “mother knows how to keep a secret from me…and when will I know – because there’s no one left to tell…and your brother won’t be found”. Cryptic insinuations to say the least. Near the two-minute mark cymbal shimmer and drum beat kick in among the still wavering guitars, as the vocal phrases are repeated in cycles.
It takes a full four minutes before the song suddenly crescendos with constant cymbal shimmer and sheets of guitar noise and other guitars that reach out and up, with James finally exclaiming and repeating the same lyrics…”but don’t worry ‘cause I’m leaving…and your thoughts aren’t clear…I’m thinking about you…and your brother won’t be found…”. A second background vocal line is off-set and sing-talks these same lines, all the while the listener is being inundated and battered aurally with guitar noise.