Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr.’s musical moniker, released sophomore album, Confess, on 4AD. It follows 2010’s highly praised debut Forget, co-produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor and released on Taylor’s label, Terrible Records, prior to getting picked up by 4AD. Emblematic of indie music’s not-so-recent infatuation with nostalgia, it is unsurprisingly saturated with John Hughes worthy 80’s synth pop. In interviews, Lewis divulges Confess was born from an ambitiously high-speed ride on specified ‘vintage’ motorcycle. So I threw Confess on in my car and took Lake Shore Drive into the city, following the route Ferris & co. take in Cameron’s dad’s 1961 Ferrari convertible, though admittedly in a far less sexy vehicle. If this album is meant for the road, this is the closest I’m getting to the experience.
Listen to Confess
The first three tracks do not disappoint. The build between tracks to single “Five Seconds” is well-composed. Almost as if Lewis preempted me, Confess’ first track, “Golden Light” is reminiscent of aforementioned opening credits. Just as one tires of the repetitive nature of lyrics “golden light/you’re the golden light/some people say you’re the golden light/you’re the golden light,” the second track pulls you back with a distorted riff that sounds like post-hardcore more than dreamy synth. Quick check that I’m not listening to Thrice, and as the drums kick in, R&B influenced vocals confirm. Perhaps this is Lewis’ punk past as vocalist/guitarist for band Mad Man Films sneaking into his bedroom pop. Whatever it is, it added a healthy dynamic missing from other parts of the album.
Synth pop purists who find themselves often disenchanted by more modern flares in dream pop will find solace in the campy 80′s feel of Confess. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe this album dates to ‘87 and boasts vintage Oberheim DMX drum machine or Roland D-50 synth among its instrument lineup. Scratch that, I’d believe that lineup regardless, attempts to emulate the sounds are undoubtedly present.
Confess is rather static in its execution. Despite its often up-beat and poppy face, it is ultimately bland and oddly formulaic. A track list featuring songs uniformly three to four minutes long with shockingly clockwork brief and unimaginative instrumental breaks at around 3:00 minutes is a strange pattern as an album layout. Each song seems to have a thesis, a repeated lyric of sorts and the only lasting impression of each song, whether it be whom said golden light is or the fact that Lewis will cry when the movie is over.
The repetition of simplified, seemingly overt lyrics utilized by dream pop and 80’s revivalists such as M83, Au Revoir Simone, and the like, often create their own mysticism. The brevity of words forcing focus on what is left unsaid instead of what is, constructing its own complexity. However lyrics like “before the night is through/I will say three words” from “I Don’t Care” are shameless subtly destroyers, and induce something far from complexity, in this case sung to the same vocal melody of One Republic’s “Apologize”, but thankfully without the over-dramatic music video.
There is a surfeit of deliberate nostalgia on Confess, in lyrical message, but in music especially. The sampled guitar from The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” in “Run My Heart” is an obvious example, but there are twinklings of George Michael’s hip-jutting beats, and Phil Collins’ drum machine sprinkled throughout as well. What I hear but fail to get a sense of is Lewis, certainly not in the way he powerfully fronted Forget or demonstrated lively attachment in Mad Man Films releases prior to Twin Shadow days. Though the retro act of 80′s synth is overplayed, the problem for Confess is not in its genre choice, but the weight it lends to it. Nostalgia is not an inherent good, (though judging recent trends in music, you’d think it was), so mirroring a retro prototype will not necessarily yield a good album. Bands like Beach House manage to make use of reverb-heavy and floaty synth and nevertheless maintain uniqueness, recreating a feeling of the past without directly sampling it. The key is evoking nostalgia, not aiming for it for its own sake.
Confess is well-produced and nice to listen to but missing a sense of Twin Shadow that could separate this album from other 80′s synth enthusiasts. As a 3 song EP, Confess would have been more than good, and “You Can Call Me On” makes summer playlist core, but as an album schematic-retro copy/paste leaves one feeling hollow. Granted that nostalgia is somewhat inevitable for everyone, its construction is often easy to relate to. Even I’m guilty of the occasional Cosby sweater, but as nostalgia is merely a feeling, it can not exist more than superficially within a vacuum. There is a person to whom it must be attached, so without any sense of said person, I’m left longing for Weird Science and Uncle Buck and not for the second half of Confess.