It’s no question that George Lewis, Jr., the man behind synth-pop/rock project Twin Shadow, is a very strong songwriter.
Over the past eight years, Lewis’s career has been one of relatively limited success although he has contributed to a rather compelling argument in favor of critical darling status. He has the chops to put out a far-reaching, steady-footed album, full of the classic Twin Shadow pairing of flooding synth cut by strategically-placed guitar accompaniment. His original character is entirely rooted in the crooning, throwback-style vocal capacity of a misunderstood R&B songwriter and his recently released third album, Eclipse (2015), is under that kind of expectation.
To first-time listeners, Twin Shadow is a product of Lewis’s aforementioned quintessential methods and his apparent admiration of ’80s style pop. A song that employs a curious mix of familiar elements would be very Twin Shadow. A track that uses rhythmic synth drive, large yet pedestrian drums, and a powerful tenor voice would be quite Twin Shadow. Following the release of this third album, a track that stands staunchly on two feet without necessarily moving, allowing a Future Islands-esque ballad chorus to wash and wane, would be Twin Shadow.
While creativity would typically be Lewis’s strong suit, Eclipse resorts to a generally one-dimensional strategy in songwriting.
“Flatliners,” the opening track of the record, is actually one of its best. Using a menacing synth to lead into a rhythm-dominating chorus, the song is one of the ingenuities that sets the album up with the expectations that would ultimately slip from its grasp. “Flatliners” is also an ironic pointer toward the setting in which Lewis wrote and recorded much of the album—the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It is one of the only songs that would be obviously indicative of that environment. While “Flatliners” uses a introspective, expansive, and macabre sound, the tracks to come will utterly relinquish the record of that character.
Previously styling his songs with a rock-ish kilter, Lewis delivers much of Eclipse in a full-on pop embrace. The large majority of tracks on Eclipse are introduced by classic Twin Shadow sound, but by the time each song develops into its chorus, the pop character has totally taken over, and won’t flip onto its side to reveal a vulnerable point of entry for the interesting combination of elements that nurtured its strength. It should be carefully noted that while many of these tracks could potentially be good songs, their lack of development is disappointing. The palate of voices and array of chord progressions are almost vexingly narrow.
Yet there are certainly bright spots. The tenth track, “Watch Me Go,” does everything right that preceding tracks do wrong: its most interesting sound combos enter jarringly in the introduction and give way to sharp synths that swell and carry the chorus. The tasteful distortion and delicious punk vibe of Lewis’s vocals at times slips gracefully into the synth background, but keeps its presence. It might be the black sheep on the album, but it proves both the value of Lewis’s artistry and his raw ability to achieve the sound he knows is possible. Production-wise, it also boasts the fullest sound of the album.
The fact that we know Twin Shadow is capable of songs like “Watch Me Go,” “Flatliners,” and the title track, is the maddening part of listening to Eclipse. The album finds a path, but deviates from it just enough to tease the listener. These three songs are just enough to turn our heads to something a little cleverer than the norm, not only in the context of the album, but for popular music in general. While Eclipse holds merit as a pop ballad collection, it shouldn’t go without saying that it could have grown into something more. It misses a valuable conclusion.
This album should serve as evidence of growing pains from Forget (2010) and Confess (2012). Eclipse tries for “profound” more than its predecessors, which only increases its own standards. In trying to expand songs past their capacity, it seems Lewis has resorted to a mould, which could be a dangerous precedent for future Twin Shadow work.
Twin Shadow comes to San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom April 29.
Article by Darius Kay