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The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

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Artist: The Twilight Sad

Album: Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

Label: FatCat

Review date: Jun. 6, 2007

Some joker at CDDB labeled Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters as children's music. It's a laugh, obviously, placing this shivering monument to adolescent angst next to Raffi. Still it's only a couple of years off. The title's fourteen going on fifteen falls just a bit to the right of childhood, a time when a kid's body is close to full-grown but his (or her) mind oscillates madly between adulthood and childish breakdown. It's clearly the temporal setting for this moodily textured, dynamically mountainous, and occasionally overwrought bit of rock anthemry. If an album could have hormone surges and acne, if it could sit home on prom night listening to Joy Division and smoking pot, if it could be as fully convinced of its inner worthlessness as of its ultimate triumph...in short if an album could be fourteen, this would be the one.

The Twilight Sad are a little past this stage, maybe still listening to Joy Division but not because they can't find dates anymore. There are four of them; singer James Graham and guitarist Andy McFarlane are the main songwriters, backed by drummer Mark Devine and bassist Craig Orzel. They've been a band for about three years, starting with busy, instrument-diverse rock jams and gradually evolving an echoey, dramatic indie sound. In the lead up to their 2006 EP, the band stopped performing altogether, retreating to a Glasgow studio to hone their multilayered, loud-soft songs. The EP contained three of the best songs from this first full-length, though some of the new ones – particularly "Walking for Hours" and "Cold Days from the Birdhouse" – are quite strong as well. The work is a mass of contradictions, big simple melodies emerging from anxious onslaughts of feedback, wryly sardonic lyrics muttered in Scots-burr over vast romantic landscapes, drama and introspection locked in embrace, wary containment and over-the-top exultation alternating like flipping cards.

Start, for instance, with the band's huge, hyper-romantic sound, wreathed in clouds of reverb’d guitar and shot through with pounding ritual drums. It's a sound clearly meant for the large stage, a football stadium-sized roar built into its pounding bass and squealing, squalling guitars...and yet it was constructed in a small-ish studio, the band huddled among itself and avoiding live performances. You can't listen to songs like "Walking for Two Hours" without hearing U2, Oasis, Radiohead. It aspires to gigantic scale, nothing modest about it, and yet it's an imagined scale. There's a sort of solipsistic bubble around even the biggest surges of guitar and drums; it's a lonely boy's imagining of guitar heroism. "The kids are on fire … in the bedroom," sings Graham, a lyric that capture's the album's dizzying contest between frustration and potential.

All of which means that The Twilight Sad are not what they sound like at first, not a big romantic pop band, not a group of arena-filling extroverts. Instead, they're lonely eccentrics, crafting soaring, sprawling melodies in tight quarters, imagining themselves stars, but hearing mother's hectoring voice from downstairs. Finally, that's what makes them far more interesting than most of the bands that they sound like, all that rock energy contained, moody and inward-looking and ready at any time to blow. It's not children's music by any means, but it could hardly represent adolescence better.

By Jennifer Kelly

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