Twin Shadow – Confess
Where most acts that take their cues from 80s pop project their influences through a cultural filter, Twin Shadow delivers it directly. There’s none of the impressionist audio smudging of How to Dress Well or the kookiness of Ariel Pink here. George Lewis Jr. performs in the quasi-theatre, “proper singing” style that the decade popularised. Those overpowering drum machines? Those vintage synths? That bass sound from The Cure’s ‘A Forest’? All here. When Lewis properly lets loose it’s the kind of music you really have to submit yourself to if you’re a natural cynic to this kind of 80s melodrama. You have seen the album cover, right?
So welcome to 1984. Make yourself at home.
Most of these characteristics were here, give or take, on his 2010 debut Forget, but on Confess everything is performed without a thread of concern for modern sensibilities. Even though the previous record wore its influences more clearly on its sleeve than most of its contemporaries, it could just about blend in. Confess however is so utterly, utterly shameless in its recreation of the most pompous aspects of new wave that there’s no hiding it under the bed; you’d need to burn the house down.
Clearly a great deal of time has been put into the sound of every instrument, but the songs themselves give reason to the rhyme of studio labouring. ‘You Call Me On’ (proper 80s title and everything) opens with stadium rock guitar chords and pounding drums, underscored by jabs of the most “keyboard” sounding keyboards you’ll hear all year. After a chorus it kicks into a ‘99 Red Balloons’ beat complemented by offbeat reggae guitars. It’s the biggest genre web weaved on Confess, sown together by the dramatic vocals.
And vocals take centre stage in the mix throughout the album with Lewis flagrantly rising to the occasion. It’s a far cry from the soft, sometimes sleepy renditions of Forget. There’s a richness and power that has developed since the last time round, but more important is the way that he lets go and pushes his voice. First song to drop ‘Five Seconds’ opens with cinema-sized synths and guitars so brazen they might as well be church bells, before a bit of Prince-lite lead guitar in the verse. It’s another “best pop sounds 81-85” offering, though it peaks at the end when Lewis gets earnest and strained, belting the lyric “There’s no way to forget it all / I don’t why / I’m not trying to make you cry”.
‘Run My Heart’ works equally on its hooky new wave-isms of clicking percussion, slinking Curesque guitar, pulsing disco bass and the lyric “You don’t run my heart / Don’t pretend to care / I’ve been working on making it start / Working on making it start again / I’m not in love”. But it’s the massive, melodramatic, period-piece chorus that secures its value.
There’s a conversation to be had here that the indie world has been hinting and making eyes across the table about for some time now. A question that Destroyer album from last year, Kaputt, brought to the forefront. The discussion about what sounds you’re allowed to explore and still maintain credibility. Half of indie rock works on the concept of being against something, whether it’s punk kicking against 70s pomp, the way that The Replacements were an infinitely better band than Guns ‘N Roses, or the schism between the terms “indie” and “alternative” after Nirvana inadvertently beckoned the leeches with Nevermind. Even if we get past the way that indie has long been a dirty word in the UK; a word for beige, nondescript rock, there’s still the issue. If Destroyer’s Dan Bejar brought in smooth sax and soft rock convincingly then surely it’s a brave new world of previously shunned influences?
Not exactly. People will like or dislike Confess based on its sounds, but that old battle has mostly left behind its crusade against unwelcome styles while continuing to fight unwelcome ideas, like insincerity, for example.
So, like an insecure lover, the alternative community will continue to accept or not accept an artist based on the premise “If you mean it”. Authenticity remains paramount to audiences and a great deal of what Twin Shadow takes influence from meant something at the time and even if it didn’t then it does now, in this context. The kind of sincerity in ‘I Don’t Care’ isn’t defined by the way the delicate guitar chords underscore every melodramatic, confessional lyric in the opening verse; the way it becomes an eager piano ballad in the second; the chill-inducing crescendo in the bridge; or the lyric “Before the night is through, I will say three words / I’ll probably mean the first two, but regret the third / I don’t care”. It’s defined by the way that Lewis makes it all believable. If nobody in the world took him seriously he still means it.
Either that or there’s no conversation to be had at all and Lewis is just using the platform as a route to becoming the biggest popstar in the world 30 years late.
There are so many moments on Confess that the arrangements, like the multi-layered vocals on the second chorus of ‘Run My Heart’, elevate the melodies of the songs, but opener ‘Golden Light’ wouldn’t hurt to have a stronger hook to tie everything together. And while we’re at it the spectacularly indulgent, though promising, closer ‘Be Mine Tonight’ wouldn’t have suffered if Lewis developed it further. And there’s a general sense that the album would be better still if he ran with his ideas even more, but as it stands Twin Shadow has released one of the most aesthetically complete and sincere indie pop records of the year.
Confess isn’t great just because it convincingly recreates many 80s hallmarks in the most direct way possible. Those characteristics propel the record incalculably, but it’s not a case of whether Lewis is “in on it” or whether Twin Shadow is a product of profound naivety. He understands the transcendent qualities that both music and memory can possess when approached without reserve, thus the record isn’t built on cloudy nostalgia in either its influences or its subjects – it’s all crystal clear. And paradoxically for an album so dependent on 30-year-old sounds Confess isn’t a backward looking release. It sounds that way at first but it comes together because Lewis is very much in the moment even when he’s thinking about bygones; he wants you to understand. He’s penned a confession, not an alibi.