“Dead City,” “Sick,” “Nil.” The song titles give away the charred mood. Yeah, these guys have been listening to bleak stuff—Public Image Ltd., as “Kill it in the Morning” would indicate, and the Banshees, too. But the Twilight Sad’s take on bleak postpunk is something far more gorgeous.
That’s largely due to singer James Graham. I’m a sucker for a thick Scottish burr, and Graham has one of the great ones. His voice is chest-warming whiskey against the subzero synthesizers that dominate the band’s third album, No One Can Ever Know. This is not goth. Bauhaus had vampires; Depeche Mode had junk. Graham’s demons are domestic and romantic. His breakup songs have thick calluses on their hands, akin to the black-and-white kitchen-sink films of the 1950s. Plenty of acts have thrown down their guitars lately, but few have done it so heavily.
Minor key arpeggios and a lonely drum machine on “Sick” recall Radiohead’s Amnesiac. “Nil” follows Portishead down the same East German back roads. Somehow a thick accent keeps it all fresh. Well, to be fair, it’s more than the brogue. Some ex really scarred Graham. Thank her for that.