Nostalgia has long been a recurrent theme in popular music, but in recent years it’s become an aesthetic, and a strangely tweaked one at that. From the fuzz-pop of Vivian Girls to the bedroom new wave of Memory Tapes, familiar, even comforting sounds have played a starring role in music made to only slightly resemble those of yesteryear, resulting in manufactured memories of a time that may never have happened. But this is a common occurrence of human nature; nothing ever quite happens the way we remember it, and pop culture, from Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” to Bob Saget’s narration on “How I Met Your Mother,” frequently acknowledges the flawed nature of human memory. Yet pop music serves to romanticize nostalgia, creating an intriguing and glamorous series of Polaroid prints that were never actually processed, and few artists are doing this on the same level as Twin Shadow.
It’s a bit ironic, then, that Twin Shadow’s debut album is titled Forget. When digging into Twin Shadow mastermind George Lewis Jr.’s biography, however, the title begins to click. As a black teenager, Lewis had a confrontation with the KKK in Florida, and he’s described his youth as “lonely,” and mostly isolated from popular music and culture. And there’s an enduring melancholy that runs through Forget, albeit in the vein of ’80s heroes such as Morrissey and The Cure, complete with the gloss and gloom that loomed large during the era. Yet like these figures, Lewis transforms darkness and heartbreak into magical, universal anthems, crafting a blissfully dark album of love, loss and memory.
Forget, co-produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, shimmers and sparkles with all the elements of a great new wave or post-punk album. Danceable beats pulse beneath woozy, warm keyboards and glorious guitar sheen, and the ever-present disco basslines provide a pervasive sex appeal. Yet this is far from a strict ’80s throwback. Much like the aforementioned garage rock or chillwave artists that have turned nostalgic sounds into an idealized aesthetic, Twin Shadow succeeds in taking the familiar and making it sound new, and for that matter, quite original. A particularly stunning example is “For Now,” a sexy, danceable standout that throbs and shimmies beneath a dark veneer, and even features a surprise guitar solo halfway through. Likewise, single “Slow” twinkles with the downcast glaze of early Cure blended with big synthesizers and delay-heavy guitar, climaxing with Lewis’ chorus of “I don’t wanna believe… believe in love!”
The mood on Forget veers between sweet and sinister, sad and regretful, in each instance coming on with a kind of slightly intoxicated sensuality. Lewis addresses the fallibility of memory on the sweetly romantic “When We’re Dancing,” singing “I’m trying to remember all the things that I’ve known” and “It’s hard for me to remember all the things that we did.” Yet later on the album, on the darkly shuffling synth-pop of “Castles in the Snow,” Lewis takes on a much darker role, crooning “You’re my favorite daydream/ I’m your famous nightmare.” And on the softly upbeat “I Can’t Wait,” Lewis even sets his gaze to the future: “I can’t wait for summer/ I can’t wait for June.”
Yet whether dreaming of summer on “I Can’t Wait,” growing more unsettling in “Castles in the Snow” or describing a surreal haunt in the groovy “At My Heels,” Lewis performs each song with sublime beauty. Whether danceable or serene, the whole of Forget plays out like a strange and beautiful dream, allowing the listener to float in a kind of nonexistent time and place that may not always promise joy or true love, but sounds perfect all the same.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.