On his third album, Twin Shadow pivots away from the past — both pop music’s and his own. But what has been sacrificed in the name of progress?
In recent interviews, George Lewis Jr., the 31-year-old singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist behind Twin Shadow, has criticized his earlier work — filled with foggy layers of synths and drum machines that drew comparisons to Depeche Mode and Simple Minds — for speaking in “code,” a “specific language” that tends to exclude. Eclipse is his first full-length since shifting from the boutique-label ambience of 4AD to the fluorescent exposure of Warner Music. And now, he says, coincidentally or not, that his music is no longer “elitist.” Yet the “specific language” an artist uses is not only a strategic defense system — it’s an aesthetic, not to be discarded blithely. It’s true that Eclipse unveils itself less coyly than previous Twin Shadow albums, and sounds more brashly contemporary. But it hazards turning generic in the process.
In some places, Lewis’ conscious uncluttering of his production style reinforces his knack for piling up sentiments and hooks, as on the clubby single “Old Love/New Love” or the ballad “Alone,” a duet with The Voice alumna Lily Elise. But subtlety often seems secondary to Lewis’ craving to make an impression, which yields movie-anthem-scale dogged pleading that can recall Imagine Dragons, particularly on the irksome single “To the Top.” A few tracks, such as “Turn Me Up” or “Watch Me Go,” are nearer to his past practice of leaning emotionally intense vocals against tangle-footed beats, like a more gregarious version of many bedroom-laptop artists late last decade. Other tunes (“I’m Ready,” “Flatliners”) fall in between, like optical puzzles that flip between two dimensions and three depending on how one squints.
It’s not a matter of so-called indie versus mainstream, distinctions Lewis is likely well-aware have become petty. It’s a question of what a polished-up Twin Shadow has to add to a world already bursting with compelling egomaniacs and inspired auteurs, from Kanye West to Perfume Genius or FKA Twigs. Lewis may have cracked his own code, but if the decryption yielded any message of urgency, Eclipse doesn’t quite illuminate it.
This story originally appeared in the March 21st issue of Billboard.