Music Review: The Twilight Sad – Forget the Night Ahead (2009)

The Twilight Sad, two years off of their critically acclaimed Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, are back to brood once again.  Those who felt that this year’s excellent sophomore album by The Antlers was a bit too wimpy, or at least too willing to linger, will likely find a friend in The Twilight Sad’s own sophomore effort,  Forget the Night Ahead.  Whether it be the dark, lurking lyrics, the sometimes too-easy-to-digest waves of guitar distortion, or just Graham’s Scottish accent, Forget the Night Ahead brings all the right elements into play, even if it doesn’t always capitalize on the potential that the band clearly carries.

The Twilight Sad have abandoned some of the finer instrumental nuances of Fourteen Autumns for a more distortion heavy, My Bloody Valentine-light sound. The new sound is utilized with mixed results.  For the times that lead singer James Graham brings the melodic hooks, it works brilliantly.  The dirty guitar textures compliment Graham’s skillfully and emotionally delivered lyrics of ambiguity, and sometimes overpower them, a device which is generally used with tact, heightening the reach of a band which was already successful in developing mood.  Tracks such as “The Neighbors Can’t Breathe” and “I Became A Prostitute” are just as apt to rock your face off as they are to pull your hair over your eyes, which is exactly what many fans were hoping for.

On the other hand, the new sound offers some unfortunate disadvantages as well; namely, the fact that this album is consistent to a fault.  While there are undoubtedly moments of dirty transcendence scattered about, a step back will reveal the album to be a bit of a muddy mess; nearly all variety and nuance from Fourteen Autumns is lost.  That’s not too say Fourteen Autumns was particularly exploratory, but it would have been nice to see The Twilight Sad develop in that direction.  The textures dominate this album, resulting in several stretches of indistinguishable sound.  Thankfully, it’s not bad sound, but it’s indistinguishable and forgettabe sound.  These stretches are usually characterized by nominal songwriting on Graham’s part; like the music, the melodies aren’t bad, but too often they have no teeth.  You won’t finish “Seven Years of Letters” or “Scissors” particularly offended, but you won’t really remember much about them either.  Repeated listening, as with many albums worth hearing, will reveal hooks that you hadn’t expected, but too often these potent moments just aren’t worth the effort it takes to uncover them.  It’s these Mogwai inspired guitar washes and periods of arbitrary songwriting that are the album’s only definable weakness, but when Graham is able to ride these waves rather than drown under them, such as on album peak, “That Birthday Present”, The Twilight Sad truly show promise.

All things considered, Forget the Night Ahead is a successful avoidance of a sophomore slump.  It’s a step forward for the band that will satisfy the majority of fans and critics alike, and will probably win a few new fans along the way.  Unfortunately, there’s too much, or perhaps not enough, that holds this album back from becoming a great.  While one has to appreciate that The Twilight Sad is moving forward with their sound, it’s also impossible to not be a little disappointed that there’s far less risk-taking within the album itself.  Nevertheless, the album represents a promising step in what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career for The Twilight Sad.

Final Score: 7.8/10

Highlights: “That Room”, “That Birthday Present”, “The Neighbor’s Can’t Breathe”

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