The transformation from an average person to a fully fledged on-record persona can be difficult. At its best, the turn has the effect of magnifying human emotion, allowing the listener a mode of catharsis through the extreme dramatics. Dawn Richard is one example, transforming from ex-girl group member to love’s Joan of Arc. Purple God Prince is another. At this point, Twin Shadow (once known just as George Lewis Jr.) can be added to that list.
Lewis, only on his third album, is more shadowy than those others. Nonetheless, he’s still compelling in his own right. The frosty lothario has transformed leathery slickness into two worthwhile albums: the shifty Forget and the groovy twinkle of Confess. But if you’re looking for a crash course, there’s the brisk “Five Seconds”. Twin Shadow’s fatalistic conclusions (“I don’t believe in you/ You don’t believe in me/ So how could you make me cry”) evoke a James Dean-like character (except Dominican and with a guitar) traversing this nocturnal landscape. Amidst rich riffs, classic stadium rock, and multicolored synths, Twin Shadow is on a journey to find love within disillusionment. Though nebulous, that quest is invigorating — but, most importantly, it’s a journey. Eclipse, Lewis’ latest, occasionally lacks that driven feeling.
While Confess is an exercise in efficiency, Eclipse wears itself thin. A majority of the album harps on the inevitability of the loss that comes with love. It’s a subject that offers a wide enough palette, but there’s too much screaming in the dark here to reach much of it. A character’s gotta have an arc, and Twin Shadow keeps close to home.
A lot of Lewis’ epic sentiments amount to soap operatic effect: it’s conveyed almost too clearly and overtly, and the intended emotional weight falls flat. “Alone”, a duet with Lily Elise, makes a very clear play on relationship tensions that ends with Twin Shadow’s bitterness: “Last time that I saw you/ Said you’d make it up to me/ I haven’t seen you since and I don’t plan to.” Scathing, but it’s not anything that hasn’t been done before, and his self-seriousness sounds like someone bemoaning a breakup as if no one has ever felt this much pain. The title track — with its tribal drums and distorted riff — never quite reaches the level of urgency it desires. “Turn Me Up”, which caps off the dry three-song stretch, runs on a chord progression that diffuses the tension of its “love as addiction” message. Throughout, Lewis’ voice rarely leaves mid-range tremolo and drags a sense of gravitas along the ground.
All that said, Lewis still has his hits. He makes going big work via shouted whoas on “To the Top”. “When the Lights Turn Out” nearly collapses on itself, but transforms into another beast when the hook hits. Lewis’ lyrics work best when they’re terse (“Jealousy and ecstasy, slowly taking over me”), trusting the night to carry the poetry.
“I’m Ready” might not catch on as a crowd favorite, but it epitomizes the journey that’s missing for long stretches of Eclipse. In a note attached to the album’s announcement, Lewis explains that he was hampered by interpersonal and intrapersonal distance. So it sounds like he settled: “I forgot about these things and focused only on what was in front of me: practical things, mundane things, things that simply kept me busy and not bored.” He concludes that his personal dilemmas sort of worked themselves out, but for the most part, great art comes from the journey rather than the end result. “I’m Ready” reflects that amidst screeching guitars: a story of an unexplored city and distant love. There’s both a physical and emotional expanse to explore, and this is one of the rare moments in Eclipse where you’re excited to follow.
Essential Tracks: “I’m Ready”, “To the Top”