Since forming in 2007, Glaswegian quartet Twin Atlantic have gone from strength to strength in their native Scotland – and the British Isles more broadly – scoring high-profile support slots for bands like Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance, while also appearing frequently on the billing for the T in the Park, Glastonbury, and Reading and Leeds festivals, and drawing ever-increasing crowds to their headline performances. It is against this backdrop of a rising star that Twin Atlantic release GLA, and expectations are high for the group’s fourth record, fuelled by past accolades and the steadfast support of BBC Radio, who have been featuring the album’s singles since June.
It almost goes without saying that a powerful, stage-setting, opening track is a prerequisite of any great album – or even a merely good one, for that matter – and Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator is a doozy; all crunchy guitars, fuzzy bass, and pounding drums. As far as opening songs go, it’s worth the price of admission, and Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator doesn’t so much end as stop. Abruptly. Audiences pilloried The Sopranos for ending in a similar manner, but when the audience only has their ears to go by, and it comes at the start of a record, it amplifies the jarring nature of the effect. Yet it works, remarkably well, ensuring the listener’s attention carries over to the swagger of No Sleep.
It is with No Sleep – second track and lead single for GLA – that things start to get a little shaky for Twin Atlantic, as it becomes clear that Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator provides the template from which No Sleep is built. Sure, there are a few nips and tucks, a few stylish substitutions, here and there, but the structural déjà vu breaks the charm somewhat. Singer and rhythm guitarist, Sam McTrusty, has said that GLA is Twin Atlantic reflecting on what it means to come from Glasgow, with its multiculturalism and cosmopolitan flavour. With that in mind, it’s interesting that GLA was recording in Los Angeles – a city renowned for putting style before substance – and was produced by Irishman, Jacknife Lee.
Writing from the antipodes, and not yet having had the chance to visit Glasgow, perhaps I am simply not seeing the cultural touchstones that mark GLA as being of place, being of Scotland and Glasgow. McTrusty’s accent – to a non-Scottish ear – is less pronounced than on Twin Atlantic’s earlier works, although he does seem to lean into it more for Mothertongue, which closes the album as strongly as it was opened via a minimal arrangement that artfully juxtaposes the spanky guitar tone with the darkness of a cello. This use of cello illustrates just where, between opening and closing spectacularly, GLA dropped the ball. A Scar To Hide ditches the pop-inflected dirty rock of GLA, instead opting for the intimate tones of an acoustic open-mic night, which would be neither here nor there in the grand scheme, but the use of cello to back the song demonstrates just how heavily GLA has been produced.
Twin Atlantic’s song writing is decent; nothing exceptional, but also nothing patently bad either. They’re game-a-day players in this regard, and no doubt this is why their popularity has been consistently growing. Nevertheless, excessive flourishes in production – such as the cheesy hand claps of The Chaser, the mix and compression applied to Overthinking which leaves the rhythm section sounding bombastic, the overlong outro to Whispers – only devalues GLA, turning an album that would otherwise have been quite good into one that is just okay.