Twin Shadow – Eclipse (ALBUM REVIEW)

twinshadowlabuThe first Twin Shadow album, Forget, released in 2010, was a beautiful surprise. Pulsating and dreamy, awash with synths and drum machines, it drew instant comparisons to ‘80s New Wave and New Romantic influences, to which it clearly owed a debt. Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis, Jr., was obviously well-versed in ‘80s synth-pop, but what made Forget so ironically memorable was that it evoked its influences without directly imitating them: it borrowed from them in instrumentation and rhythm but wrapped them in tight, warm production, with Lewis’s morose vocals, half cynical and half sleepy, putting a veneer of distance between the listener and the beat. With its enveloping production, sepia-drenched synths, and lyrical references to childhood and the past, Forget didn’t sound like ‘80s synth pop, it sounded like sitting in your bedroom decades later and remembering what ‘80s synth pop used to sound like on your Walkman headphones.

Five years and two albums later, Twin Shadow’s sound has changed significantly. Forget had a fragmentary quality in its arrangements and sequencing, songs stopping abruptly just as they kicked into gear, unexpected breaks, the whole thing sleek with tension but never quite blowing up; it was distinctively an album, a single work. Eclipse is much more a collection of individual songs; it doesn’t feel quite as unified as its two predecessors, sonically. It nods to a range of styles and musical directions. Forget effectively meshed its stylistic benchmarks into a single potent blend; Eclipse untangles those influences and follows their musical DNA more deliberately, and its songs can be sorted by genre.

The single most significant change to Twin Shadow’s sound over the past five years is a greatly expanded dramatic range and intensity. His first album shifted around but stayed mostly on an even keel, especially vocally. But where Forget tells stories, Eclipse feels them. There’s a forcefulness to the music and the vocals that wasn’t present before; the melodies are just as assured, but built with passion rather than detachment or knowing ennui, benefiting, perhaps, Lewis’s relocation from Brooklyn to LA. It’s not unusual for acts who get their start in a bedroom recording studio to begin pushing their sound towards bigger, bolder statements once they get a taste of playing live with a full band; Grizzly Bear and Beach House are two other examples of acts that started out making drifting, dreamy pop and evolved into more forceful and dynamic composers and arrangers.

Eclipse is full of thundering structures, with taut verses exploding into forcefully emotive choruses. Often the results are impressive; “Turn Me Up,” for example, alternates dry clap-and-snap verses with echo-drenched choruses that are big and satisfying without straining or feeling demanding. But it can also result in excess. There are no bad songs on Eclipse, but there are a few that tread ground without really moving forward. Of the three main genres the album draws from – arena rock, house music, and stripped-down, electrified R’n’B – the first is by far the least interesting, and these are also the songs that incorporate the most gratuitous dynamic shifts. The stadium-sized “ooooh”s and power chords of “To The Top” make it an excellent Springsteen knock-off, but also an interruption to the flow of the album. Also not entirely satisfying is the album closer “Locked and Loaded,” which emotes more than it develops, feeling a little too much like a montage from a Grey’s Anatomy season finale. These are fine tracks, they’re just burdened by bombast and short on a distinctive twist to elevate them above their influences into something genuinely new. A more effective ending to the album would have been the gasping, distortion-driven intensity of “Watch Me Go,” which sounds like nothing else on Eclipse and like nothing else Lewis has done before; like the best songs on the album, it moves his trademark sound forward without losing sight of it.

The best tracks on the album are the danciest, reflecting the more dance-oriented remix and guest vocal work with which Lewis has been garnering attention since his last album. “Old Love New Love,” first released in 2013 as a stand-alone single from the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack, is a straight-up summer house jam and an excellent one at that, slathered with hooks, and the swooping strings of “When the Lights Go Down,” are propelled by a ferociously controlled energy, a joyfully buoyant timbre that belies the bitter edge of the lyrics. At the other end of the rhythmic spectrum, “Alone” is a just-about-perfect slow jam, a sultry syrup situated right at the razor’s edge between anticipation and regret, where sexual mistakes tend to live. The title track, meanwhile, is a haunting, electric quasi-ballad, all palm-muted guitars in the verses and gigantic drums in the choruses.

Twin Shadow doesn’t quite have the huge audience for an arena show yet, but you wouldn’t know that from this album’s bravura and sonic ambition, not to mention its huge melodies. Two albums after a remarkable debut, Twin Shadow continues to define and refine a distinctive style. The same touchstones are at the core of the songs, but the production is different now, more present, everything moved up and forward in the mix. The sound is much bigger, more physical than atmospheric: if Forget was the sound of memories in your earphones, Eclipse is the sound of a small band in a very large rehearsal space, all natural reverb and excited readiness. The clean, icy production gives the tracks a sharp edge, the sonic space above the crisp claps and synth lines sometimes aggressively big, even harsh at moments. But this is a solid and powerful collection of songs that pulls boldly in several directions, and though it strives for a level of epic impact a bit beyond its reach, the striving is itself a worthwhile effort.

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