A LITTLE MORE HUMAN Twin Shadow

All right,
dance/synth-pop fans, time to
Confess:
it’s among the freshest sounds 2012 has yielded to date. So with all the
accolades, why is George Lewis Jr. conflicted?

 

BY RYAN REED

 

Twin Shadow mastermind George Lewis Jr. doesn’t sound like a
star. Speaking from Manhattan, in the offices of record label 4AD, the slightly
grizzled and mentally drained synth-pop whiz talks in half-mumbled waves, with
the aura of a drunken poet. And, in general, he doesn’t exactly look the part,
either. With his Burt Reynolds-esque mustache, five-o’clock shadow, and massive
pompadour, Lewis is visually cartoonish: the kind of guy you’d expect to find
tinkering with a toy piano onstage in an artsy Brooklyn bar. But even if he
doesn’t fit the stereotype of a typical Pitchfork-approved indie icon,
Lewis has settled gracefully into that role with his wonderful sophomore album,
Confess.

 

But that doesn’t mean he’s particularly comfortable in that
position.

 

“I’m just signing a bunch of photographs of
myself,” he sheepishly sighs over the phone during a grueling press day.
“It should become surreal… in about five more minutes.”

 

Based on the radiant, glitzy arena-pop jams on Confess,
Lewis better get used to signing autographs. At its best, the album
simply bursts at the seams with retro hooks and ferocious grooves, taking the
blueprint of his insular, critically adored debut, Forget, and blowing
it up in all the right places. Self-produced (with assistance from keyboardist
Wynne Bennett), Confess clearly bears the mark of its polished studio
inception – a far cry from the living room-recorded confines of his debut. And
you can even spot this confident reinvention without listening to the music: On
the album cover, Lewis stands in a pompous, stylized pose, wearing a black
leather jacket, its collar flipped up against his bare chest. It’s
simultaneously retro and suave, dated and emphatic, in the best way possible.
Its boldness speaks volumes.

 

In spite of Confess‘ sparkly musical giddiness, Lewis
makes no claims of studio mastery. In fact, he’s quick to note that he often
doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. The album, he explains, was recorded
partly in a self-built studio, and the music was perfected through a process of
“happy accidents” and experimentation. “I had been kinda
collecting little bits and pieces of gear and kind of just shipped it out to
California and put it all together inside a house that we rented. So we kinda
had a studio in a sense when we needed it. I do a lot of writing when I wake
up, so I could kinda just roll out of bed, and it was all there just waiting
for me.”

 

“It’s just like anything,” he continues. “You
kind of evolve out of that pre-school phase, and you become knowledgeable about
a certain number of things. It’s a very similar experience because, both times,
you’re kind of ignorant to a lot of things you haven’t experienced yet, so you
have to overcome them. So working in a bigger studio with a lot of
‘professional’ recording equipment, I had to learn a lot. But it’s a similar
experience in that you’re discovering a new way of doing something that’s
inside your head.”

 

Lewis took a risk by beefing up his sound. There was a
charming, off-kilter naivety to Forget, in the disconnected artsiness of
its chilly-yet-danceable beats and textures. Listening to Forget felt
like discovering a lost demo from a would-be ’80s pop star. Confess isn’t
as charming: It’s cockier and more aggressive, more widespread in its immediacy
– which means, of course, that many of the same fans who drooled over Lewis’
debut may now sigh in disgust. But even though Lewis risked alienating his
fanbase – the same group of hipsters that made him an unexpected indie
sensation – he typically steered clear of the “sophomore slump”
question while writing his second album.

 

“You know, I didn’t give myself a lot of pressure – well,
I always give myself a lot of pressure – but I didn’t give myself any more
pressure than when I was working on the songs for Forget. A lot of my
friends actually came out and were like, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able
to top Forget, blah blah blah; It’s such a great album.’ A lot of people
were like, ‘Hey, are you worried? Forget is such a distinct record!’ And
I think it was just them trying to say, ‘Hey, don’t fuck this up!’ But I don’t
know. [For me] the pressure only comes really when you’re about to finish: ‘Did
I do my best? Is everything down here that I want to be?'”

 

Confess also feels more alive: Lead single
“Five Seconds” features booming percussion, animalistic yelps, and
hilariously overdriven, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”-styled electric
guitar crunch. The funky, bass-heavy “Beg for the Night” explodes
into a wide-screen chorus of layered vocal harmonies. Meanwhile, the soothing,
exotic ambience and elegant keyboard layers on opener “Golden Light”
recall the textured glory of Peter Gabriel, one of Lewis’ early musical
inspirations.

 

“The only kind of music that my parents and myself and
my sisters agreed on – when we bought our first CD player, [Peter Gabriel’s
1986 album] So was one of the first records that was kind of enjoyed by
the whole family. My sisters had Jagged Little Pill, which I hated. And
there was the John Fogerty… but Peter Gabriel, everyone could kind of get
down with.”

 

Confess‘ blaring, windows-down surge was also,
fittingly, inspired by Lewis’ obsession with the open road, and with two very
important motorcycle excursions: One ride from several years earlier resulted
in a terrifying crash; the other – a 100 MPH free-fall into pure mental exhilaration
– indirectly kick-started a burst of creativity.

 

Lewis wrote vividly about the two events on his Tumblr
(“My
mind was clear. I inched toward 100 on the speedometer and punch the last five.
TON UP! My mind is filled with words. My heart is full of love. This is where i
want to be. I want to stay here, and I want to tell you everything”), and
it’s a decision he now regrets: “Everybody’s
been asking me about that, but I guess it’s my own fault,” he laughs.

 

But even if Lewis
romanticized his own experiences for the sake of a sonic narrative, it’s easy
to understand in the context of Confess‘ impressive scope:
“I think it was a reaction to – I rarely listen to Forget, but when
I did, I realized how ‘boxy’ it is. Everything was kind of stuck inside a very
specific meter in a way. And I just wanted to kind of break free, and have a
lot more of the mistakes rhythmically, showing. And just have it sound a little
more natural, I guess, and a little more human.”

 

Synths sound like atom bombs. Guitars punch directly in the
gut. Most noticeably, the rigid drum machine rhythms of his debut have been
almost entirely replaced by live percussion, including several moments of
jolting marching band samples.

 

“I think just the keyboard player, Wynne Bennett, and I
– we talked a lot about, while we were out on the road, how we really love
drumlines and step team music, and how we’ve always wanted to be in a
drum-core, like an all-black drum-core kinda thing. So I think going into it,
we were just really excited by that kind of thing. And also, growing up in
Florida, you can’t really get away from going to football games with drum lines
that take themselves really seriously and put on a great show. So I’ve always
experienced that, and I kinda made a conscious decision to not use drum
machines on the record, and that was kind of where we went with it, I
guess.”

 

“I just wanted to kind of break free,” Lewis
reflects, a sudden burst of energy undercutting the grogginess. “And just
have it sound a little more natural, I guess, and a little more human.”

 

 

Leave a Reply