Albums of 2014 (#2): The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave (Fat Cat)
Down but far from out, The Twilight Sad have recovered from “tough times” and delivered their finest album to date. James Graham explains where things go from here
When it comes to christening new work, The Twilight Sad have always had an ear for evocative and ambivalent turns of phrase. From debut single At Home, I Had Become the Invisible Boy onwards, their appellations have captured something of the music’s gloomy essence: long winters, cryptic confessions, haunted hearts. Nonetheless, when details of their fourth album were first announced, something about its title seemed a shade glummer than usual – particularly in light of comments in these very pages. “We don’t know how long things are going to last,” said vocalist James Graham during April’s studio visit, going on to explain how he approached the album “as if they were the last songs I would ever write.” With October’s follow-up chat bringing further sober assessments of the band’s situation, the words 'nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave' seemed to convey defeat and stasis; an expression of flagging spirits and lost momentum.
The music, however, tells a different story. Nobody Wants to be Here… is the sound of a band pushing themselves to bigger, bolder, and more bruising heights than ever before, setting a monumental benchmark for whatever The Twilight Sad do next. It sets off from a dark place, with Graham ominously promising a point of no return (“you’re not coming back from this”), and the tracks that follow maintain this tense energy in multiple ways: through propulsive melodies, fraught emotions, and a canny interplay of tones and textures ranging from brooding guitars to spare synths to bleak piano lines at the close. “There’s nothing left for us,” sings Graham in the album’s bitterly beautiful dying moments, but in terms of the band’s prospects, the opposite appears true; right now, The Twilight Sad seem poised to go anywhere and everywhere.
"We want to do this as long as we possibly can" – James Graham
“I had so many sleepless nights over how this record would be received, because it was so important to us,” writes Graham, emailing between dates of the band’s recent US tour. “One thing I learned a long time ago,” he notes, “was that you can't please everybody,” but Nobody Wants to Be Here… proves you can sometimes come darned close, with the album garnering near-universal acclaim. But while critical praise is more than welcome, it’s the reaction from fans that has meant most to the band. “The main thing is that people who liked the band before are loving the new album,” Graham writes. “It’s also introducing a lot of new people to the band, which is great as well.” Indeed, early support for Nobody Wants to be Here… was almost enough to push it into the top 40 – unfamiliar territory for a band of The Twilight Sad’s ilk. They’ve since triumphed in our readers’ choice poll, by successfully shake-shaking off competition from Taylor Swift (whose concerted fans very nearly squeaked it for the megastar). All in all, the warmth of the welcome has been something of a shot in the arm. “The support we've seen for the band,” Graham concludes, “has really shown us how much our music means to people.”
The Twilight Sad last featured in our albums of the year list back in 2012, for third album No One Can Ever Know. In the accompanying interview, Graham stated “our fourth album will be very important in deciding the future of this band.” Now that the milestone has passed, where does that leave The Twilight Sad? “The record has been out for about three weeks now as I write this," Graham responds, "so there is a long way to go and a lot of work to be done/gigs to be played before I can truly answer this question. What I will say is that it has been an amazing start to the album campaign and, if things carry on this way, it’s going to be the most successful album we've produced. I've said it before, but all we really want is for this album to be as successful as it needs to be for us to be able to make another new record. We want to do this as long as we possibly can – we love doing this and we have a lot of things we want to do and say within our music that we haven't done yet… We're still in the early stages of seeing what this album will do for the band in the overall picture, but at this point we're only taking positives from it.”