July 11, 2012 1 comment
George Lewis Jr.’s 2010 debut, Forget, was nothing if not unassuming. Chris Taylor (of Grizzly Bear) handled production that would rather have you disregard the fact that it could reasonably be described as lush, fulfilling and, very possibly, colorful. Twin Shadow is a character compiled of heartbreak, lonesome musicianship and probably a few too many long nights soundtracked by Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward. That flag was flown fairly low on that album, opting rather for more emotive instrumentation and esoteric phrasing. Two years later, that character serves no purpose in the frame of Confess. George Lewis Jr. is not only flying high the flag of his forebears, he’s shouting in hopes to hearken the emotion that he may not be able to convey through simply being who he is.
It’s not to say that Confess isn’t a complete representation of what Twin Shadow is all about. The first single, “Five Seconds”, is a burly synth-pop waltz, forged from the pure cognizance of a dancefloor caught in the two-step of a Joy Division groove (which always makes me fondly envision this). It’s a hell of a track, and one that captures a moment that’s never equaled throughout the entire album. It’s easy to pull out the familiar 80’s archetypes and cite their presence here, but what makes this album seem so reminiscent is the incessant repetition. Take the opening track, “Golden Light”, with its varying drum cadences and shimmering keyboards floating somewhere between Miike Snow and Neon Indian. While it is, in fact, a solid place to begin, those qualities — the distant background vocals, the airy, crescendoing guitar leads — come up again so often, and unexplored, in later tracks.
This isn’t much of an issue on the first listen, which can lead to some deceiving likability. But, within the context of repeated plays, the recurring themes don’t spell out continuity so much as a limited arsenal. There’s nothing terrible about tracks like “You Call Me On” or “Run My Heart”, but there’s also nothing that makes them distinct enough to suggest that they’re fully formed conceptually. It’s difficult to put my finger on, but in my notes I kept falling back on the word “passionless”. Yes, there is a certain Roland Orzabal approach to Lewis Jr.’s voice, but on a song like “When the Movie’s Over”, where the instrumental platform is raised high enough for him to really elevate to a supreme climax, he feels somewhat disengaged.
That isn’t to say that Twin Shadow’s lyrics suggest otherwise. On the surface, he seems to have a garden of emotional foliage to cull. But, standard fair such as “the heart”, “falling in love”, placing importance on a kiss, fighting (or succumbing to) the urge to cry; I know it seems like low-hanging fruit I’m picking here, but the recurrence is interminable. For an album that runs just shorter than 40 minutes, I feel like I’ve heard the same phrasing, one way or another, a hundred times over. If he doesn’t need “her” kiss on “Beg for the Night”, then he needs it on “Patient”. If he isn’t crying for “her” love on “You Call Me On”, then he’s damn near on the verge in “The One”. I can’t fault him for being an open book here, but it does feel like a missed opportunity to build some tension and mystery around some of the, admittedly, more impressively composed records out right now.
And, that’s probably the main redeeming factor. Confess is definitely a feat in production at various moments. The bass isn’t too compressed where it shouldn’t be, the vocals, while sometimes not always as tonally succinct, are meticulously mixed, and the keyboard inflections sound terrific. The aforementioned “Patient” is a premier example of this, with low end synth driving between the drum and bass, while an echoing guitar shares a faint duet with the steel pan sounding electric tones. Even the closing number “Be Mine Tonight”, with it’s sugary melodrama and borderline cheesy melody, keeps intact due to timely guitar and atmospheric, Pro Tools sounding sonic wave staccato.
On a good day, Confess will get you through a short car ride with not much disappointment. But, it’s nothing to study. The songs are deeply personal, I don’t doubt, but the presentation is lacking in areas that could easily be resolved. I should be feeling for Lewis Jr. and his emotional trials. I should be rooting for Twin Shadow to pick his heart up off the floor, or to get that girl he’s been eying from across the dancefloor, or at least share in his knowing smirk when he acknowledges his devious ways with innocent women. But, I don’t feel much of anything at all, which is probably the only reaction that shouldn’t follow a “confession”.