By Ed Jones
The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
Release: 3rd April 2007
Producer: Andy MacFarlane
Singles: That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy, And She Would Darken the Memory
Every now and then you may stumble across a band that have such a profoundly moving effect on you that you’ll stop whatever it is you’re doing and just sit and listen to the music.
There are very few bands I can think of that have moved me to do this in the same way as The Twilight Sad and with the 10th anniversary of their debut Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters occuring this month, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look back at this monumental album. This is a special album to myself; to first time listeners it might seem challenging, it might seem to depressing to listen to for more than a minute, the cacophonous walls of sound crashing down around you like a tsunami might put you off, but behind the thick layers of Scottish misery there is something beautiful and cathartic about The Sad’s first album.
The first time I was introduced to The Sad’s unique brand of folksy mayhem came at a point in my life when I was in need of something to hold on to, some kind of buffer between myself and the real world. The sounds of Fourteen Autumns seemed almost tailor made for me and I listened to it and their second album Forget the Night Ahead almost religiously. It helped that it was during the winter of my last year of 6th form and I was unsure of my place in the world (Not that I’m any surer now mind you). But the chaotic nature of the music and frontman James Graham’s cryptic lyrics spoke to me in ways that music never had before.
The lyrics deal with broken people and broken homes, delibaretly leaving large parts of the stories blank. Filling them instead with repeated motiff’s and phrases that do far more to build a picture of adololescent angst far better than any other band that focuses on these topics. When you’re of that age, you can never quite find the right words to express your feelings and Graham understands this better than most. Songs like Mapped by What Surrounded Them and Walking for Two Hours suggest a far bigger picture than they actually describe, his thick Scottish bur ranges from a thing of comfort to harsh gutteral wails, but it never goes into full on tantrum like so many ‘angsty’ bands. It is of course helped by the rest of the tremendously talented band – Andy MacFarlane’s brutal wall of guitar noise crashes and flows around the lyrics, filling in the details that Graham leaves out. Walking for Two Hours – a song, that as the title suggests is about being far away from home with no idea why is made infinitelty more lonely and isolated by this huge, impenatrable wall of sound.
The Sad’s main lyrical concerns and music is depression and loneliness, but there’s something so beautiful and catathartic about it, particularly in their first two albums, before they strayed more into electronic influences. Grahams ragged voice often sounds like its on the verge of breaking completely, sometimes simply melting into the crashing drums and shredding guitars. It’s in these moments, when his voice retreats into the background that the catharsis comes into full swing – sometimes hiding away in the shadows is the best form of expelling your demons.
For a small, relatively unknown band, The Sad arrived with arena ambitions and it’s none more noticable than their live shows. I was lucky enough to see them play Fourteen Winters in full in Bristol a few years ago and I can honestly say I’ve never come away from a gig feeling more energised, the venue; The Exchange is relatively small, but it felt like an arena when the band started playing, and witnessing a band wear their heart so far on their sleave was something I won’t forget anytime soon. Every peak is built up to such intensity that when it finally breaks you can’t help but feel better about whatever it was that was troubling you before. That’s the true beauty of The Twilight Sad and particularly their first album, they, like most, know teenage angst and growing up all too well, but they never approach it in a way that seems smaltzy or over-bearing, they give it a sense of gravity and weight that few other bands have managed to capture.
As I said at the start of this review, sometimes you’ll find a piece of music that will make you stop what you’re doing and just listen. That was the effect Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters had on me when I first listened to it and now ten years after it’s release (five after I discovered it) it still has that power, it creates an outlet for those feelings you might have when you’re unsure what you’re doing in the world and throws them against the wall, repeatedly, until you feel clensed. It might be miserable and challanging, but I honestly can’t think of a more rewarding album to spend 45 minutes with.