Do a search for reviews on Twin Shadow pre-2015 and a majority of them will start off by introducing George Lewis Jr. by name, labeling his sound as “moody/indie synth pop” and mentioning something about ego or machismo. Reviews around the time of his first two albums, Forget (2010) and Confess (2012) will talk about how he was Dominican-born, Florida-raised and Brooklyn-based. It will be emphasized that one of the reasons he is something to talk about (besides the quality of his music) is that he is a rare, pure masculine male figure in the indie rock world; a world usually associated with sensitive men with airy/high-pitched voices. There will also be a myriad of references to early-to-mid 80’s pop/new wave bands that he seems to have been influenced by.
Overall the ratings for his first two albums are good, the praise is just shy of a full commitment to loving it and the tone is endearing. Even though the sound and mood between Forget and Confess changed slightly there is not much else but acceptance for the two albums produced at indie label 4AD Records. With a little commercial exposure and a pouty pretty boy demeanor, Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. was our friendly neighborhood indie/moody synth pop bad boy with a golden heart.
Then he moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, which seems innocent enough unless you know the kind of people that leave NYC for California (especially Los Angeles): they are sell-outs. They have lost their east coast, NYC, true art and suffering cred. They have traded in scarves for sunny skies, being judged for your clothes to being judged for your clothes AND your car, and traded meeting new friends through other friends to meeting your new friends from your other friends in the industry. That alone may not been enough to damn his indie cred status (there are plenty of west coast indie gods) but then he did the unthinkable, he switched from indie darling 4AD to corporate leviathan Warner Music! Oh the betrayal and outrage. Reviews of his latest release Eclipse (2015) under Warner have changed their tone a bit; they are harsher and honestly sound disappointed.
So why would Lewis make such a move? Evolution. Many artists go through a metamorphosis and chase the sound they are led to make. Take Arcade Fire’s Reflektor for instance, it is a departure from their avant garde surrealist indie rock to a punchier Ziggy Stardust meets Adderall bombs essence. It may be good, it may be bad but either way it was the direction they felt they wanted/needed to go.
Some of the things moving from an indie label to a major label brings you is money, further reach and surprisingly, freedom. Lewis wanted to drop his guitar and be free from seeming elitist and unapproachable. What better way to become a man of the people than to enter the world where they live. Pop music (meaning, in this case, both the style of music and the industry) is all over and all encompassing not only in America, but around the world.
So he traded in some of the moodiness for bigger choruses and a more commercial sound. So he traded up some of his indie cred for the freedom to produce music on his terms. Was it worth it? Looking at reviews and a lack of representation on the Billboard 100 or even 200 charts you would think not. in fact the album is just under three months old and has had very little exposure in the mainstream media. So does that mean that it is still technically an “indie” album though it is on a major label? Or is it just lost in that purgatory between indie success and commercial success that bands can find themselves in? Where the pretentious music purists think you are too commercial and the common folk think you are some weird experimental indie group. It is too early to tell.
Tragically just a month or so in, the tour was interrupted due to a serious bus accident enroute to the next gig. The bus carrying the crew and some of the band was more seriously damaged and the passengers in much worse shape than the other bus. Despite being spared the worst of the damage some of them band members including Lewis were hospitalized and have had to take a break. I’m not sure if that has also set Twin Shadow back from becoming a household name or not but it is clear that he has not yet broken into the world of pop music as much as he had wanted. But put Eclipse on at a party, ask anyone who comes over to say “who is this? I like it!” for a dollar and see if you don’t leave that party with enough money for a 6-pack or two of elite microbrews from an upscale Manhattan deli.
Pop music is catchy, even if you can’t stand Miley, Taylor, Gaga or Maroon 5, you will catch yourself humming/tapping/bobbing along with their music when you hear it or think of it. That is what Eclipse brings to the table, what is left of Twin Shadow’s indie cred with fuller, punchier, more epic sound that irradiates your core and makes you feel something. He’s traded in the Prince and Springsteen guitar wielding sex-machine vibe to focus on performing with his voice and his words (which he views as his strongest skill). In an interview with Pitchfork he tells the interviewer “I’ve come to realize that my words are the best thing I have. My voice is not perfect. I hear guys like James Blake sing and I can’t even fucking believe that comes out of a human being… I want to use the voice that I have. It’s the most direct thing.” And just for anyone skeptical that his great voice is not just the product of studio enhancements and production (as it is with a number of pop musicians), you can listen to an unplugged, raw recording of three of his songs from his Spotify Session and hear it is natural talent.
Eclipse is a breath of fresh air for both Lewis and the listener. It is so much more than a Synth Pop/Chillwave album, there are elements of Soul, R&B, 80’s Ballads and Dance music. What makes it even more interesting and astonishing is that the use of a variety of many different styles is not just present throughout the whole album but often within a single track. Take for example “Old Love/New Love” which starts with a stripped down, low key R&B groove and quickly climbs up into a club-pounding Dance track then resolves back to a soulful outro. It brings collaborations with other artists including amazing vocals from Lily Elise on “Alone”. The album kicks off with a face punch called “Flatliners” which begins with a dark groovy whisper and explodes into a beat and synth heavy chorus. The album ends with the gut clenching feel-good pop rock anthem “Locked & Loaded” that makes you want to both put your lighters (or cell phones in this era) up but also throw your hands up and get lost in the movement as it takes over your body.
Tracks like “When The Lights Turn Out” and “Half Life” keep more true to the Chillwave sound while “Alone”, “To The Top”, “Locked & Loaded” and “Turn Me Up” are a perfect blend of R&B, 80’s Ballad and Synth Pop. The title track is subdued and soulful until the hook where it lets loose and is more tribal and intense. It is moody but with more of a variety; love, longing, regret and rebirth are all themes that present themselves.
In his interview with pitchfork he attributes a lot of his new vision and newest sound to his mother.
“Like, when I say, “you eclipse me” [on the title track], part of me is saying, “Here I am out in the world doing what I want, sometimes being on television, being on the Internet, blah blah blah—but here’s my mom in the Dominican Republic just being herself and being such a vision of beauty to me. And in the face of that, I am completely eclipsed.” That is a perfect explanation of the new direction and inspiration that has formed this latest release.
Overall the album is tight, well produced and has the potential for commercial success. If you are looking for this summer’s “windows down, crank it up” album for your car,” party enhancer”, “dancing alone with your earbuds” or even just “need to clean the whole house and need inspiration” album, Eclipse could be your answer.
You can stream the whole album on Spotify and purchase it from iTunes, Amazon or wherever music is sold.