A brief synopsis of the Twilight Sad has some ups and downs. They burst onto the scene with the explosive Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, filled with squalling guitars and blissful pop. But, then they took an odd side-step with Forget the Night Ahead, which was a more straightforward approach. Now, officially three albums into their career with No One Can Ever Know, the band is still treading the darker side of humanity, just with much more polished edges and electronic flourishes.
James Graham’s vocals have always been a vital part of the Twilight Sad, and it takes the lead on opener “Alphabet.” More important, however, is that the guitars work that made the band such a bombastic group is now being replaced by shades of electronics, at least in the foreground of this track. You can’t claim that this is a poor track, but the absence of the dynamics that flourished early in the band’s career really aren’t present on No One Can Ever Know. Still, with Graham’s prowess, it’s hard to dislike anything the band puts together. ”Sick” almost feels like it’s utilizing some of the electronic playfulness we found on Kid A or Amnesiac, combining grooves, beats and strengthened vocals. Just one listen to the chorus and you’ll surely find yourself fawning over this number.
Even though it’s easy to see the differences from album one to album three, the band’s not completely lacking energy on this effort. In “Another Bed” you’ll find a pulsating rhythm brooding beneath the number, and melded with further electronic swaths that cut through the track. Similarly, “Don’t Move” uses the same stylistic accompaniment, although the pounding of the drums definitely provides hints of a darker force just waiting to explode on No One Can Ever Know. Yet, there’s something amiss, even as you see the band is aided by their craftsmanship. The whole of the record feels really sterile, and lacking a bit of passion, which drew me to the band long ago. ”Kill It in the Morning” is perhaps the only track of the collection that really sees Graham pushing himself, and it doesn’t arrive until the end. But, you should definitely give it a listen as there’s hints of Trent Reznor in the production of the song; the ending where it drops off and you get Graham again is also a special moment. You just get the feeling that the band is capable of so much more.
For what it’s worth, No One Can Ever Know is an enjoyable listen, and one that brand new fans will surely appreciate. But, followers of The Twilight Sad might be a bit disheartened by the listen, as the group still seems like they’re trying to find their footing in the current musical landscape. I appreciate the dark quality musically and lyrically, but it’s placed too simply, lacking much of the force you know the band is capable of producing. Perhaps this is just a stepping stone to greater ambitions, and only time will tell. For now, we can be pleased, just not blown away.