The Twilight Sad are a band that people seemingly refuse to notice. No One Can Ever Know is the band’s third full-length, and what should’ve been a hyped release went seemingly unnoticed. It wasn’t even Pitchfork’s top billed review for its release day (that distinction went to a pointless examination of a recent Wilco iTunes session). Pitchfork is, of course, not the end-all be-all of music criticism, but the relative lack of coverage for such a deserving band is indicative of the larger trend. The Twilight Sad hail from Scotland, and have spent the past several years fine-tuning a style which can most accurately be identified as a meeting point between gothic post-punk and shoegaze. Massive walls of distorted and delayed guitar sounds juxtaposed with moments of calmness and reserve characterized 2007’s Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. 2009’s Forget the Night Ahead tightened things up a bit and dialed back those delay pedals, but otherwise maintained the course of its predecessor. No One Can Ever Know, then, is a somewhat unexpected next step for the band. The noisy guitar work is still present, but less prominent and augmented with synthesizers and a combination of drum machines and live percussion.
The shift is a bit jarring on a first listen. Opener ‘Alphabet’ never evolves into bombast. There’s a reliance on lingering atmosphere over build-ups and dynamics shifts. That trend continues throughout the record. Tracks like ‘Nil’ and ‘Don’t Look At Me’ are driving and cyclical. They seem to drone on and eventually disappear on that first listen, but sink in and become nearly hypnotic upon further examination. Keys and synths reminiscent of Disintegration-era Cure give the whole affair a retro feel. Much like that record, it’s somber and grey, but still human. Lyrics by vocalist James Graham have not become any less cryptic over the course of three albums, maintaining their general sense of unsettlement and dread. Graham often sounds as if he’s speaking immediately before or after some unspecified tragedy. But even if it’s never been entirely clear what the lyrics are about, they’ve always felt oddly relatable. Perhaps there’s some comfort in the heavy brogue of Graham’s arresting voice.
The combination of those emotive vocals and the band’s proclivity for flare-ups of noise out of relative calm have created some brilliantly cathartic moments on past records, but No One Can Ever Know isn’t exactly a cathartic album. It maintains a sense of restraint throughout. There’s a sense of longing without resolution present as Graham repeats, “I want you more than you will ever know” during ‘Don’t Move,’ and it reflects the overall feel of the record’s sound. All of this enhances the power of closing track ‘Kill It in the Morning,’ which finally lets loose some of that pent up emotion with a more aggressive vocal delivery and a positively menacing bass line. It’s the album’s most immediate track, and one of its best.
No One Can Ever Know is unlikely to replace Fourteen Autumns as my go-to Twilight Sad record, but it’s a worthy entry in the catalog nonetheless. The band sacrifices some of its immediacy for the sake of a new direction, but the risk is both admirable and rewarding. A-