The Twilight Sad

Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters

(Fat Cat; 2007)

By Conrad Amenta | 29 May 2007

Finally filling the gaping hole left in our lives when Arab Strap dissolved and Aidan Moffat took his molasses-thick Scottish brogue away, James Graham's equally dense vocals are the only element different enough to elevate this standard set of noisy indie rock songs to some higher place. And that's too bad, because from the outset we can tell that the band has epic on the brain and was shooting for it with all their guns; Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, the Twilight Sad's debut, has the feel of an album burdened under the weight of its own self-imposed expectations. Just check out those song titles, that unfortunate band name, and the shimmering walls of epic guitar delay. They've generated the spirit of profundity, but not profundity itself; because the album falls predictably short of its own ideal of sweeping monument, and because there are few true standouts on an otherwise solid album, one's ultimately left fixating on an accent, and that's not much of a basis for musical transcendence.

Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters is an album with a sum worse than its parts. Its massive guitars are instantly accessible, but rarely reap the benefit of a crescendo for their insistence on immediate noise and reliance on big show effects. The drums wash cymbals throughout the mix, and accordion is a constant backdrop rather than what might have been a more effective style of strategic selectivity. The braggadocio of "Walking for Two Hours" and "Talking with Fireworks / Here, It Never Snowed" have plenty of potential, diverting and funneling folk roots until they're propelled stratospherically into noise, but the play of melodramatic beauty and tragedy ("Kids are on fire in the bedroom" on the former; "a knife in your chest" in the latter) overreaches. One wishes the band would scale back their use of such unwieldy songwriting and focus on dynamics, the way so many of their Glasgow indie brethren have been able to.

In some places -- like the cycling, extended outro to "And She Would Darken the Memory," or the chorus to "I'm Taking the Train Home" -- the Twilight Sad do manage to achieve a notable balance between noise and melody, and in a way that conjures Mogwai's more majestic (if less ferocious) moments. But what the band seems to not know how to do or not care about doing is carry the listener to these places in a believable and fully satisfying way. A crescendo is only as good as the build to it; intangible guitar lines are often enjoyed contrasting solid ones. Simply put, this album is enjoyable enough while listening to it, but also a victim of its own airy qualities, which render it largely unmemorable. Not every riff needs to be "Can't Explain" to stick out, but the Twilight Sad would benefit from giving us something other than Graham's limited range on which to focus.

Still, there's a lot of promise here. It's not unusual for a newborn band to shoot for the moon with their debut, nor is it a weakness. One is given the impression that the album might have been better if it had included fifteen percent less of...well, everything: less noise, less accordion, less dominance of the vocals in the mix. But nuance is learned with time, and once the Twilight Sad do, one imagines the possibilities for something special.