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The Twilight Sad

The MOGWAI-esque equivalent to fellow countrymen ARAB STRAP, post-punk indie faves The TWILIGHT SAD were quite unique in their singer James Graham’s intransigent and tenacious Caledonian vernacular – a rare thing in these post-millennium days of duplicable doppelgangers; the sensational ALEX HARVEY, only The PROCLAIMERS, AIDAN MOFFAT, KING CREOSOTE and a plethora of traditional folk acts (too numerous to mention) had previously been brave enough to stick resolutely to their God-given Scottish burr. Several years plugging away on the fringes, and finally The TWILIGHT SAD were happy as Larry, so to speak, when album number five, “It Won’t Be Like This All The Time”, gate-crashed the Top 20 in January 2019, proving that resilience, patience and hard graft could ultimately pay off.
Formed in Kilsyth, in the outskirts of Glasgow, The TWILIGHT SAD kicked off their campaign in 2003, when high school buddies, guitarist/composer Andy MacFarlane and the aforementioned James Graham roped in drummer Mark Devine and bassist Craig Orzel in to the fold. In true Beefheartian equanimity, the quartet played a few gigs before batting down the studio hatches, so to speak, for months on end in order to produce a surefire demo.
Fat Cat Records would give the lads their first break. Puzzlingly, they only distributed their eponymous 5-track EP in November 2006 – and overseas in the States. Local fans had to wait patiently until the following spring, when three of the five songs (`That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy’, `Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard’ and `And She Would Darken The Memory’) would grace the grooves of brooding debut set, FOURTEEN AUTUMNS & FIFTEEN WINTERS (2007) {*8}. With heart in hand(s) and a cacophony of melancholic melody that could fill the hills and glens from the lowlands to the highlands, the aptly-titled `Talking With Fireworks / Here, It Never Snowed’, `Mapped By What Surrounded Them’ et al, glistened on an air of luminous lilt and hypnotic hue.
On the back of adding essential live keyboard/guitar auxiliary, Martin “Dok” Doherty (of CHVRCHES), The TWILIGHT SAD were only one set into their resume, when they took the divertive decision to release an acoustic re-workings EP (entitled `Here It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did’); and also a limited-edition outtakes compilation, …KILLED MY PARENTS AND HIT THE ROAD (2008) {*6}. Nevertheless, the “Hatful Of Hollow”-like album did possess covers of The SMITHS’ `Half A Person’, JOY DIVISION’s `Twenty Four Hours’ and YEAH YEAH YEAHS’ `Modern Romance’, having just contributed their re-tread of DANIEL JOHNSTON & JAD FAIR’s `Some Things Last A Long Time’ on the aforesaid EP.
2009’s FORGET THE NIGHT AHEAD {*7} saw co-production from MacFarlane and The DELGADOS’ Paul Savage. `I Became A Prostitute’ was very much in the sonic mould of heroes MOGWAI, whom they supported during a Stateside tour. However, finding their own density levels was an apparent cross they’d have to bear. Yes, The TWILIGHT SAD were still ghosting grunge-rock or shoegazing into their Irn Bruised egos (example: `That Birthday Present’); though the record’s high points, such as singles `Seven Years Of Letters’ and `The Room’ still outweighed any negative vibes emanating from unworthy reviews.
The following February, Orzel decided to form Orzelda, and his berth was filled by live bassist Johnny Docherty (of TAKE A WORM FOR A WALK WEEK). The year 2010 was a sparse one, though another intermediate EP, `The Wrong Car’, cast outsider re-vamps of `The Room’ (with MOGWAI) and `Reflection Of The Television’ (alongside Scottish rivals ERRORS).
Said to be inspired by PUBLIC IMAGE LTD, industrial campaigners CABARET VOLTAIRE, and others of a left-field lull, Graham, MacFarlane and Devine came up with the sonic and sombre, NO ONE CAN EVER KNOW (2012) {*7}. The mighty overhaul of sound came as a result of TWO LONE SWORDSMEN’s Andrew Weatherall adding his unmistakable backdrop of grind, grief and groove. A hard set to pigeon-hole, and harder still to garner any ebb and flow, loyal fans were nonetheless impressed by the moribund moods on `Dead City’, `Sick’, `Another Bed’ and `Not Sleeping’.
The main trio was duly joined by keyboardist Brendan Smith, who passed Martin Doherty in the proverbial corridor on his way back to CHVRCHES. And glossing over an almost obligatory remix set that saw the triumvirate mix it up with a number of electronic mediators from all over the globe (including LIARS, Com Truise and Glasgow’s J.D/Twitch/Optimo), there was indeed time in hand to work with Falkirk’s own BILL WELLS & AIDAN MOFFAT on a single version of `Alphabet’.
2014’s NOBODY WANTS TO BE HERE AND NOBODY WANTS TO LEAVE {*8} saw The TWILIGHT SAD now mastering and melding their atmospheric craft to the max. The near Top 50 chart breakthrough was recorded at MOGWAI’s Castle of Doom studios in Glasgow, and saw the group once again glean the eclectic mixing/production values of The Philistines Jr. member Peter Katis, who’d worked with TTS back in 2007. James Graham was now free to swoon and croon his brooding brogue to ultimate perfection, while MacFarlane’s shoegaze guitar grooves gelled with the mournful but majestic melodramas such as `There’s A Girl In The Corner’, the single `Last January’, the folk-rawk `I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want’, and the exquisite MBV-esque autumnal title track.
Drawing in unlikely sustenance from superfan Robert Smith, a subsequent tour of the globe with The CURE ensued over the next few years. It seemed TTS were finally getting the breaks they so richly deserved. Probably exhausted from performing under a bigger spotlight, James Graham moonlighted with ad hoc Scottish indie-supergroup, OUT LINES, alongside solo artist KATHRYN JOSEPH and producer Marcus Mackay. The triumvirate was initially instigated by former DELGADOS member Alun Woodward, for the 2016 Outskirts Festival, though the latter opted out when his Platform arts project for the Easterhouse estate took precedence. The short ’n’ sweet CONFLATS (2017) {*6} – running at around 29 minutes – was nevertheless mooted for Alun’s co-owned Chemikal Underground enterprise (heralding seven pieces recorded at Glasgow’s Divingbell Lounge). However, it was ultimately issued on MOGWAI’s Rock Action Records. The sleeve artwork design, incidentally, was down to the ill-fated Scott Hutchison (of FRIGHTENED RABBIT), who died tragically the following May.
Inevitably, there was only one home that The TWILIGHT SAD could be happy at, and that was the aforementioned Rock Action. Devine had departed therein, and his replacement(s) arrived in the shape of studio sticksman Jonny Scott (of Strike The Colours) and touring drummer Sebastien Schultz. Their most adventurous but accessible album to date, IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME (2019) {*8}, excavated confessional composers Graham and MacFarlane’s innermost and darkest mood swings, held together with a jangling CURE-like shapeshift that brought hope rather than despair. The download single, `I/m Not Here’ – note also the font-face discrepancy – previewed the record in dramatic style; its shards of light depicting a rainy day solitude. Ditto the glistening opening salvo, `(10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs)’, where pummelling synths won over the day. The paradoxical `Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’ was later issued as a separate download, whereas the romantic-laden `The Arbor’ contrasted well with fest fave and lead-off singles, `Videograms’ and `VTr’.
© MC Strong/MCS Jul2019

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