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The Cure frontman Robert Smith called Scottish post-punk quartet The Twilight Sad “the best band playing the best songs” back in 2016, and here’s hoping the rest of the world catches up sometime soon. This January, the band released their fifth effort, It Won/t Be Like This All the Time, a record of anguished, emo-adjacent anthems that managed to make synth-rock sound brand new again but flew relatively under the radar in the States. Today (Oct. 8), they’ve given us even more of a good thing, releasing two tracks recorded during the It Won/t Be Like This All the Time sessions that didn’t quite fit onto the album.
Singer and lyricist James Graham shares in a statement that “Rats” and “Public Housing,” while beloved by the band, were too heavy musically and lyrically even more devoid of hope to mesh with the rest of the project. “Rats,” a grave exploration of the challenges of communicating difficult emotions, is laden with feedback and swirling synths. Guitarist and producer Andy MacFarlane says they were “trying to capture more of the chaotic live sound of the band and condense it into three minutes.” He explained that the track was one of the earliest demos for the album, alongside standouts “Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting” and “The Arbor.” Graham, who intones “All you love is dead” throughout, explains that the song is “a reaction about a mindset I think is very dangerous in our society”:
[T]he attitude of “just get on with it” and that talking about your feelings or insecurities can be seen as a weakness. I think it’s a major problem taking that approach towards young men especially—the term “man up” being a horrible example. The line “don’t take it to heart” represents this. Knowing that attitude exists all around you when you are struggling makes you feel very alone. These songs are bleak but writing them helped get me out of a bad place in my head.
“Public Housing,” the noisier and more claustrophobic of the pair, charges forward like an inferno, with unrelenting, crushing guitar. Graham has a gift for making the most self-pitying lines sound strident, and perhaps nowhere better than here. Even declarations that he’s given up completely are full of a commanding scorn, whether directed at himself or his persecutor. “I just lay on the ground,” he seethes, each phrase scathingly elongated: “Take it all lying down, playing dead.” “Will you catch me?” he shouts, searching and accusatory, against an encroaching wall of guitars, “Are you even there?”
Listen to “Rats” and “Public Housing” below, as well as a 2015 Twilight Sad Daytrotter session further down.