Release Date: Mar 17, 2015
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
“Old Love/New Love” was the first hint that something had changed for George Lewis Jr. The song — released by way of the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack in 2013, as part of a fake radio channel hosted by Lewis himself, no less — was unlike any Lewis had yet to record. With four minutes of Michael McDonald vocals, disco guitars, Geiger counter drum programming, and 4/4 house beats, the song felt like roleplay or provocation; one way or another, games were being played.
The major-label debut is an art form that can range from huge departure to subtle budge to barely recognizable transition. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it, whether you are Nirvana or Danny Brown or The Decemberists. The one thing that is consistent across the board is that more ears will pay attention with the expanded resources of a label behind an album, and for Twin Shadow, the career possibilities become more apparent.
Even during Twin Shadow's earliest days, George Lewis, Jr.'s melodies and emotions had a scope that suggested the indie world couldn't contain them; with each album, his music shed another layer of distance and gained more heft. Though he made a bigger leap from Forget's gauzy heartache to Confess' life-or-death power ballads, Eclipse's songs are even more stylized and crystallized, welcoming Twin Shadow's pop leanings into the spotlight with a huge embrace. Like HAIM, Lewis, Jr.
When it was announced that George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow, was leaving legendary indie label 4AD and had been courted by Warner Bros., there were some who cried foul and suggested that he was giving in to the dark side of the Force. His latest album Eclipse had already been recorded and was slowly being promoted by 4AD, so the sudden move was unconventional, to say the least. Regardless of whether or not the deciding factor had more to do with the prospects of receiving a pay raise or gaining more exposure, the shift to a major label presented him with a significant opportunity to broaden his fan base.
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.
Almost a year ago, Twin Shadow (aka George Lewis, Jr.) released "To the Top," a sonically massive, emotionally direct ballad that foretold a new direction for his in-progress third album. Lewis' first two LPs contained '80s-inspired New Wave at its finest, pressed through a smoky filter of brooding theatricality. "To the Top" excised some of that flavor, but it also happened to be one of Lewis' best songs to date.
When he released ‘Forget’, his first album as Twin Shadow, way back in 2010, George Lewis Jr.’s style was simple - a faux-bedroom producer aesthetic created with a handful of synth sounds and a whole lot of Morrissey-esque melancholy. The best songs from ‘Forget’ - ‘Shooting Holes’ and ‘Castles in the Snow’ for example - worked because of this brilliant simplicity that complimented Lewis Jr.’s hypnotic and emotionally tense vocal. Since then, however, Lewis Jr.
There's a single moment on New Wave revivalist George Lewis Jr.'s third album as Twin Shadow where he throws off his leather coat to get lost in pure ecstasy. It comes on "Old Love/New Love," a house-beat-driven highlight that offers rave-level bliss on an album that more often sticks to cocksure swagger ("To the Top," "When the Lights Turn Out") or somber introspection ("Turn Me Up"). Of those two modes, the more muscular approach nearly always suits Lewis' strengths better; his contemplative moments, like "Alone," tend to get drowned out by pompous synths and howled pleas.
On Forget, the still-great 2010 debut album from George Lewis Jr AKA Twin Shadow, the woozy, lo-fi production acted as a welcome corrective for Lewis’s borderline-nihilistic musical persona (“I don’t want to believe or be in love” he implored memorably on that album’s Believe). On Forget’s follow-up, 2012’s Confess, the homespun production values of Forget were replaced by gleaming and pneumatic musical arrangements. These, coupled with the album’s macho, cynical lyrical sentiments, meant the album came across as off-puttingly butch.
George Lewis Jr.'s Twin Shadow project exists in a careful balance between style and substance, with '80s pop and R&B tropes and tones punctuated by sharp hooks and his crooning vocals. At the centre of Twin Shadow though, is Lewis himself, a popstar trapped in indie music's anti-star world. So it comes as no surprise that Lewis made the jump to a major label to realize his grand musical ambitions.Yet Eclipse, the first product of this new partnership, puts this delicate balancing act out of whack.
It’s refreshing to have someone in the indie world admit without shame: I want to be super famous. Today, just three albums into his career, it’s difficult to believe that Twin Shadow’s debut rode on the wave of bedroom-pop blog hype. His last LP – the brilliant Confess – made no pretence about his ambitions: bigger stages, bigger songs, bigger production, bigger everything.
On his first two albums, Twin Shadow operated as a Frankenstein-like figure, an avatar for George Lewis Jr. to reenact certain celebrated notions of cool, drawing from an '80s-inspired palette of counter-culture influences: a pained Morrissey-style croon, ethereal New Romantic eccentricity, new-wave artiness, Prince-lite sexuality, goth-inspired gloom. This multifaceted approach extended both to promotional material, with Lewis clad in leather and framed in gauzy soft pink and blue, and the songwriting itself, centered on big, hopeless heartbreak ballads fueled by more than their share of tempestuous bluster.
In 2010, George Lewis, Jr. released Forget, a small and evocative synth-pop record dotted with sense-memory details: "Here’s all I know/ Your checkered room and your velvet bow/ Your Elvis song in my ear," he crooned. The record was a success, but Lewis seemed impatient with the smaller-scale stardom it brought, and made his hunger for bigger stages plain in interviews.
There was always a maximalist bent behind the George Lewis Jr. approach to songwriting. When Forget dropped in 2010, his Manchester-inspired croon not only garnered a few comparisons to Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel, but also disguised Chris Taylor’s multi-faceted, esoteric production as subdued, new wave pop. Confess, produced by Lewis himself two years later, was no exception – instruments and synths exchanged effortlessly, until songs had arrived at unexpected destinations.
Although it might seem ridiculous to turn on your cellphone flashlight and wave it around while sitting on the couch, it feels like the most natural response to Twin Shadow's latest set of shamelessly catchy arena-less arena anthems. You may also feel an urgent desire to commandeer the nearest wind machine, don some sort of semi-slutty negligée with plenty of excess fabric on the sleeves and go to town on a chaise longue. This look would be particularly suitable during the oh-whoa-oooh-oh chorus and crashing cymbals on To The Top, or perhaps the tribal propulsions and multi-tracked belting of the words "release," "resist," "hold back," "then kiss" on the title track.
Before he assumed the stage name Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr. was searching — for an artistic identity, an audience, a city to call home. Raised in Florida, Lewis spent time in Boston starting in the early 2000s, fronting the band Mad Man Films and collaborating with Cambridge’s Drug Rug. It was a stretch of years that Lewis doesn’t look back on too fondly in interviews or during his concerts here, and it was only when he left for New York that he hatched his most high-profile project.
Twin ShadowEclipse Poptimism’s dark side rears its head on Twin Shadow’s third LP Eclipse. After deriding his own music as “too elitist,” George Lewis, Jr. switches out guitars for…not guitars, and stakes pretty much everything on an album of enormous, heart-on-sleeve arena ballads that should validate an oft-mocked pop form but too often invites that same mocking.