The Twilight Sad | Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)

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cd_twilightA rolling rim-tap forms a bridge over watery arpeggios in "Talking With Fireworks," a would-be tender song ruptured by hot-level salvos so overwhelming that even the vocals are forced to drop out until the barrage recedes.

 

 

 

 

Ah, youth. I'm glad I'm done with it. In retrospect, the angst of adolescence appears harmless if not ridiculous and, by extension, we may distance ourselves from the soundtrack of such laughable despair, respectfully shelving old Cure albums and a decade-wide catalog of 4AD bands as relics of a more naive, histrionic self. Fitting then, that the Twilight Sad presents a concept album about the existential, familial, and romantic crises of a 14-year-old, because their sound is akin to brushing the dust off those early '90s British shoegaze albums, recalling the drama of both adolescence and its personal score, with its embarrassing poetry and inappropriately frequent crescendos, as things life-sized and serious. Some may call this album's style retro, with the Twilight Sad another band in a shimmering new wave of shoegaze acts, but I call it time travel.

Having already used the word "shimmering" once, this critic apologizes for any shoegaze review cliches you are about to read. The album opens with a languid slide guitar and James Graham's Scottish brogue on "Cold Days From the Birdhouse." Graham's is a voice that may require a brief adjustment period among Yankee listeners but which, even as it rises and falls from the mix throughout the album, never flags in confidence. These vocals are not whispered confessionals on this album but passionate appeals to the heavens, fists raised and eyes rolled skyward, a posture reinforced by cannonades of guitar noise and furious drums. There is nary a space on this album that is not without at least the shiver of a cymbal or the lingering reverberation of a guitar.

Starting out, it takes two and a half minutes before the first sonic eruption, but a pattern of bottling up and exploding is henceforth set for the album, a pattern which could understandably tire a listener within the next 45 minutes, but carefully avoids any self-parodying predictability. "Walking for Two Hours" wins guitarist Andy MacFarlane the Kevin Shields Prize for the meandering wail of chorus and delay that push the song from the gates, but what cements the song is the humble, earthly presence of an accordion in the verses that keeps the otherworldly effects grounded within the bored wandering of its boy protagonist. A rolling rim-tap forms a bridge over watery arpeggios in "Talking With Fireworks," a would-be tender song ruptured by hot-level salvos so overwhelming that even the vocals are forced to drop out until the barrage recedes.

"Mapped by What Surrounded Them" kicks off the more solid second half with a more collected, stern tirade against, who knows, possibly existence itself. Craig Orzel's bass masterfully steers the song through the initial two-thirds before releasing it into an open, echolalic space. The repetitive lyrics ("These walls are filled with blades" and "I watch Emily dance") read like private, high school-era poetry, the sort scribbled into textbook margins while ignoring the algebra teacher, and recall the internal pathos of the teenager who just discovered the Tormented Artist archetype.

Despite the bad gothic poetry intimated by the title "And She Would Darken the Memory of Youth," the song turns out to be the most upbeat point, not unpleasantly reminiscent of old U2. The album's high point however is the penultimate* and powerful "I Am Taking the Train Home." "And you're always/ you're always/ fishing for the truth" laments the protagonist, in a chorus that is anthemic in defeat, as a man prepares to return to adulthood, studying his naive but idealistic younger self with sympathy and sorrow. Even MacFarlane's heavily-effected guitars are unsuccessful at drowning out Graham here. The chorus is echoed in the instrumental, titular closer, where Mark Devine's gently militaristic snare leads a snowy march out of memory. As a nostalgia trip, Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters revels in, as '90s teen anti-idol Kurt Cobain put it, the odd youthful "comfort of being sad" without the outright misery of that recurring dream of having to go back to high school and showing up naked in homeroom. A- | Jessica Gluckman

RIYL: Arab Strap, Interpol, Kitchens of Distinction, My Bloody Valentine, U2 BBE (before Bono's egomania)

*Where are the lists of greatest penultimate album tracks? I wrote one, but, erm, my dog ate it.

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