Twin Shadow - Caer
Undecided on pop pageantry or a darker aesthetic, Twin Shadow exists at a crossroads that lends his namesake weight. Like a bluesman on the train tracks, the singer/ songwriter named George Lewis Jr. seemingly holds an offer for financial success at the expense of a soul, and his album Caer is a document of that struggle. Whether this concept is intentional or not is unclear.
Twin Shadow began work on Caer following a hiatus that followed a near-fatal tour bus crash in 2015. The sound is a mix of Prince revival and 80’s synth-pop. He incorporates occasional (and effective) chamber arrangements no doubt learned from original producer Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear. He can play guitar well, though does so less now, and his voice careens between pop anthemic and lonesome balladeer effortlessly. As a musical talent, George Lewis Jr. is the package, his good looks and sharp sense of style make it the full package.
Then what pulls such an archetype of mainstream popularity down to merely independent levels of success? When barely cracking Billboard 200 becomes your high point (Eclipse hit #175), is the decision to write for the masses working? Debut album Forget made Twin Shadow a cool kid darling, but he soon abandoned those jittery rhythms and subtle textures for bombast and glory, scoring some Hollywood placements with fewer plaques than the sound demanded. Great art doesn’t necessitate great numbers, but stylistic choices do show intent; and although sincere in ability and love of the genre, the numbers haven’t added up.
So naturally comes Caer, the artist’s attempt to meld his dorm room dance party with the blown out melodrama of modern pop. The aspiration is evident; the result is questionable. Starting with a sampled choir and plucky pianos, “Brace” is cellphone waving stadium feel good at its most delicate. This will be for the masses. John Hughes internal soundtrack “Saturdays” doesn’t alter the opinion. Neither does “Sympathy”, which begins a tragic trend of songs apparently born in workshops and left on the floor: Julia Michaels without the mansion.
Like a window into utopia from some plastic high rise, Twin Shadow presents “Little Woman”, a beautiful piece of baroque orchestration and a vocal delivered with heart-thumping intimacy. And it doesn’t fit. Immediately following is “When You’re Wrong”, dark funk and smart, tight melodies that are minimalist and make you move. Combined, these tracks are a breakneck turn from the earlier pop posturing; and although appreciated, too late to give this project full acclaim.
What remains is a mixed bag: “Too Many Colors” is too pandering and bone-headed; “Obvious People” and “Runaway” are soulful and lyrically strong. The closer “Bombs Away” is a fitting best of both worlds, movie credit accessibility and nostalgia with some gloomy production and an interesting use of spoken word. Twin Shadow crafted Caer with an undetermined vision; or alternatively, a day clear decision to meld his two career paths in one. The overriding problem is it’s hard to tell which story is true, and the listener is left with a patchwork of memorable deep cuts and dime-a-dozen apparel store singles that leave you wanting more no matter which side you fall on.