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On Second Listen: The Twilight Hours – Stereo Night

on March 07, 2010, 10:00am

About a third of the way through Stereo Night, one fact becomes apparent: The Twilight Hours are the anti-She & Him. This isn’t to say they sound nothing alike. In fact, they both have that semi-acoustic ’50s pop sound and write songs about love. What makes The Twilight Hours different is that they’re much more about love that’s been lost or remained unrequited, rather than love that’s been found. It’s Stereo Night’s sense of sadness that is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

The Twilight Hours are made up of Minneapolis duo John Munson and Matt Wilson. Both share vocal and instrumental duties throughout the album and are so alike, it’s hard to tell who is who even by the end of the record. The multitude of talent they possess can be found all over Stereo Night, from their acoustic guitar picking, to their crafty songwriting, to their absolutely beautiful vocals. Both artists are able to move from falsetto heights to a down-to-earth low range, and they know when to use each. Each track’s instrumentation is extremely layered for having been made by just two people, but you can still tell what every instrument is. The instrumentation never gets to be overwhelming and usually builds throughout the course of the song.

Opener “Dreams” immediately sets a mood as a gentle guitar arrangement accompanies slightly strained vocals that create an exhausted sadness. The chorus simply states, “These dreams are killing me.” The entire song has the feel of staring out a car window as you watch the world pass by and wonder what could have been, a theme often repeated throughout the album.

“Yes” starts off as an acoustic affair with a driving beat before a deep electric guitar drone appears in the chorus. Probably one of the more upbeat romantic numbers on the record, it lets the singer’s voice float to front and center with a dragged-out chorus of “Yes.” The backing vocals mix extremely well with the singing at the forefront, creating an almost-perfect harmony.

Those two songs pretty much set the tone for most of the album. The Twilight Hours stick with their semi-acoustic arrangement, with the tone switching between deeply sad and cautiously happy. Wordless backing vocals, bouts of smooth falsetto, and gracefully sad strings (such as in “Winter Blue”) pop up often. If Stereo Night stayed in this territory for all 10 tracks, it would have been really tiring by the end.

Luckily, “Queen of Tomorrow” pops up seven songs in and shows a completely different side to the duo, while managing to be one of the best songs on the album. It still deals with the material of love and loss, but in a much jazzier, almost humorous manner. The  melody is the catchiest work of the duo included in their debut. Including both a Captain Kirk reference and a smooth saxophone piece, it’s just a really fun track to listen to. It becomes obvious that Munson and Wilson had a blast writing it.

Unfortunately, this lighthearted side of The Twilight Hours can only be found on “Queen of Tomorrow” and the following track, “Goodbye Good Life”. For the remaining two tracks, it’s back to sad business as usual. There’s nothing wrong with making an album with sad songs on it. But the inclusion of such a fun piece towards the end changes the mood and makes you wonder why there wasn’t more of this included. Even just one or two more upbeat songs would have given the record an emotional balance it badly needed. As it stands, the happier numbers feel out of place. Maybe next time around, The Twilight Hours will find a way to craft an emotional spectrum that works as well as its songwriting does.

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