The Twilight Sad's first two albums went a long way to building a sense of self. Developmental in forging a sound that could provide, suitably, for James Graham's yearnings, frustrations, angers, embitterment and lyrical revenges, their third No One Can Ever Know dispenses with Andy MacFarlane's dense over-laid guitar soundscapes and, rather than fill that intimidating gap directly, sees them opting for a sparser, arguably bleaker plateaux of analogue synth with a more direct sense of influence in Depeche Mode, NiN and Martin Hannett. Not the first departure for the band, whose live re-workings and stripped-bare arrangements of first album Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters resulted in the mini-album Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did, this is a more marked change – sonically they’ve left frenetic anger and noise and brought, at times instead, cold automatic functionality and uneasy calm.
Lyrically, Graham continues the brooding and threatening themes explored in previous outings, but with a tangibly stronger sense of hope supported by the more forward-looking musical shift. Opener "Alphabet" is suitably portentous - both whetting and delivering of what's to be travelled thereafter, angular drums, dominant synths, washes of guitar and a calm vocal delivery rich with the malevolence of Graham's thoughts. On both "Dead city" and "Don't move" the new influences manifest themselves in a similar vein to that which characterised Primal Screams' output once they began referencing Krautrock, most notably in the driven positivity delivered by bass and drums on each. “Sick” starts off like Radiohead’s recent explorations - looped glitch drums and ringing guitar - through less abstract lyrics and with added angelic synth. “Nil” is at first perhaps most reminiscent of Depeche Mode with a chorus that recalls the outro of The Horrors' "Sea within a Sea", the recurring “There’s only one way this is gonna end” eerily foreboding of dark promise. "Another bed" is the culmination of the strongest influences on the album winning out, whilst closing track "Kill it in the morning" brings to mind Therapy? doing Joy Division – proud and unabashed in inspiration.
Maybe change is inevitable for a band making it to their third album and musical reinvention is easy enough to accept when done with a conviction that suggests it's through a deep standing affection for the sounds it aches with, rather than some flirtatious, short-lived affair. Certainly it’s an album which knows exactly what it likes and is unashamed to revel in that stance. Perhaps the downside of this is the sense of departing from an originality found on the earlier albums. However, to their credit, there is no mistaking the progenitors, Graham's voice is unquestionably inimitable enough to ensure any real absence of confusion, and theirs will always be an identity nailed to this centric force. Attempting to replace sledgehammer guitar noise with glacial synth is in no way detrimental to this album, it is a new and different approach which, whilst making no obvious attempt to develop on previous styles, adds to their canon an album which contrasts well with its predecessors and shows refreshing imagination.