Twin Shadow’s music is best described as delicious. Listening to his debut album, 2010’s Forget, now and it sounds comparatively tentative next to Confess, which was released in July. But they are both gems, utterly reconizable as the music of a bygone era (the ’80s) but perfectly shaped and polished. With Confess, gone is the slightly gritty production of the debut, which was executed in various hotel rooms during the after-hours of singer George Lewis Jr.’s day job and tweaked by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. Instead we have a rich, shiny sound, even poppier melodies, and percussion that’s almost prehensile: high in the mix and bouncing around our ears.
Listening to Twin Shadow has always reminded me of the masked ball scene in Labyrinth, when David Bowie’s character is following Jennifer Connelly’s character around trying to get a dance with her, which he inevitably does, since it’s his dream, concocted with the help of — what else — a poisonous apple. George Lewis is not nearly as lascivious as Bowie appeared in that scene, but his music conjures up a similar kind of drug-induced sexual limbo.
Confess initially seems to evoke basic, relatively benign romantic concepts like longing and unrequited crushes: this is the music of hiding from the object of your affection at someone’s party when you’d rather just talk to them, then mooning over their Facebook profile once you get home. Lewis turns heartache into a kind of heroism: it’s OK to dwell, to mope, to obsess, because ugly experiences create beautiful things, or at least can be soundtracked with beautiful music.
You could argue that Lewis is trying to hide the ugly experiences described in the lyrics of Confess with his beautiful music. You have to listen closely, shove the music aside, to learn that George Lewis isn’t as winsome as his compositions, or at least, he hasn’t been of late. Confess is that inevitable “I’ve been on tour for two years” album, and the results of his touring aren’t as philosophical as Forget would have you believe they’d be.
Testing one of the publications responsible for his rise to relative indie fame, Lewis recently explained the cover of Confess to Pitchfork this way: “I’m a good-looking guy, so there’s an attractive male on the cover of my record…I dig the way I look because I dig the places I come from.” (He was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Florida. He now lives in Brooklyn.) Fair enough. And then, vanity and insecurity are often proximate traits. Lewis didn’t shut either out to make Confess, but it is surprising to learn that he used vodka, coke and cigarettes to funnel his mind into Forget, and that for Confess, he used yoga. Forget was an homage to a more innocent past, whereas Confess is a purging of the more recent past: the insidious things that can occur when a person can (and has to) just drive or fly away from people at the drop of a hat, on to the next show.
In Forget’s “Castles in the Snow,” by all accounts still his most popular song, Lewis hints at the distanced bachelor he would become once he embarked on the transient life of a touring musician. “You’re my favorite daydream,” he says in the beginning of the song. “I’m your favorite nightmare.” The subtext: he’s in it for the sex; he’s bad news. But again, there is something upbeat, even celebratory, about this and pretty much every song on that album. There are a lot of happy — or at least bittersweet — memories on Forget, and a lot of bubbly potential.
He tries to stick to this message on Confess, but this album is mostly about sex. On “Run My Heart,” his explanation for why he and the “you” in question (presumably someone from some stop on a tour) can’t be together is partly that “I’m just a boy / You’re just a girl.” They’re just two random people in the world, and she only thinks they have a connection because she has a connection to him, the musician singing under the stage lights. “You couldn’t know what makes me dream,” he explains, somewhat harshly (she seems convinced that she could). He ends by speaking these lines: “You hear what you want to believe / But you don’t owe me / And I don’t owe you nothing.” These are not the declarations of “boys” and “girls,” but of adults who increasingly know what they’re looking for in love, but still want to be able to fall back into the role of “boy” or “girl” whenever their sexual desires get the better of them.
Twin Shadow’s latest video, for “Patient.”
“I don’t owe you nothing” is probably the thesis statement of this album. Confess is a confession of what a dick the singer has been. “I abused substances, I abused women,” he told Pitchfork. “I’m going to get in so much trouble for saying that, but it’s true. It’s just the nature of the road, and everybody does it.” Do they though? “I started building really awkward relationships with people who I hardly knew, having these incredibly personal experiences, completely cutting myself off from them, and then coming back in.”
That line from “Castles in the Snow,” about the daydream vs. the nightmare, is a kind of precursor to the opening lines of “You Call Me On,” from the new album, in which he says:
I get the feeling that I’m always awake
and that I’m trying to dream
But there’s no one to take me there
And I vote for you
You get the feeling that you’re always asleep
And if you look out and touch me and see me
Later he says, “I don’t give a damn about this scene / but it’s my only way back to you,” again implying that he’s just looking for a hookup. He confirms this with a different adaptation of that line: “I don’t give a damn about your dreams.” Elsewhere on the album are similar dismissals: “I don’t care” repeated everywhere in a song of the same name; “I don’t believe in you” (“Five Seconds”); “You don’t know my heart” (“Run My Heart”), and so on.
In the downtempo slow dance that is “Be Mine Tonight,” Lewis is at his most predatory. The song uses basically the same whirring synth bass that appears in Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” featured in Top Gun’s famous gauzy love scene. “Be Mine Tonight” is almost as uncomfortable to listen to as having to sit through that scene of Top Gun with your parents. “If you can’t go home / Be mine tonight,” he sings, and you can just seem him stroking the cheek of some poor fan whose ride has conveniently left the concert without her. Someone on Songmeanings.net, the lyrics site, incorrectly entered the tile of this song as “Be Mine For The Night.” That gets closer to the point.