When people call the Twilight Sad's new album No One Can Ever Know "dark," that's a bit of an understatement. This thing is pitch black -- something akin to the feeling of waking up from a nightmare and wandering through your house trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night. In previous albums, these Scottish rockers have always had a dark side to them, but have always countered it with enough fist-pumping choruses to attract fans of acts like Frightened Rabbit. On No One Can Ever Know, however, they have turned down the noise and let airy synthesizers and cold, empty space set the mood.
Outside of frontman James Graham's bad-ass Scottish drawl, there is very little about this album that will draw you in up front. It's light on big choruses and even lighter on welcoming instrumentation. In fact, for the most part, the punchy guitars and noise-rock tendencies of previous albums are gone with the Twilight Sad's newest reinvention of themselves. Picking up influences from industrial music and krautrock instead, No One Can Ever Know feels spacious, but not in a comforting way. Keeping the mixes dry and hollow, you get the strangely claustrophobic feeling that they had been recorded in the depths of space. There's a feeling of limitless possibility surrounding the music, but very little indulgence or gratification.
But it's not just the instrumentation that gives the album such a gut-wrenching feel: there is something utterly bizarre about the way frontman James Graham stumbles upon his melodies. On songs like "Dead City" and "Don't Move," it's almost as if Graham is drawn to the dissonance, always finding himself at odds with his band and sticking out in the mix. In these spots, Graham expresses that kind of numbing pain that is beyond melancholy or even sadness; his apathy setting the stage for words of love and desire to exist in the same thought as pain and suffering ("I want you more than you will ever know," "I'll hurt you more than you will ever know").
The unfortunate truth with No One is that some of the sounds and production sound a bit sloppy at points. For some reason the band likes to use these cheap string synths and buzzsaws that sound like the Twilight Sad is merely skirted around the edges of what it can do with synthesizers and electronics. Even so, there's a lot of value in a record like No One Can Ever Know: It's personal to a fault. The emotional and musical space it gives immediately forces the listener to engage with the sounds and words. It holds its cards close, but it's the kind of album that rewards patience and a willingness to dig into the album's complexity and deeply personal nature -- passive listening here simply will not do.