Revisiting Civil Twilight’s Rich, Intense Sound

Corinne Pachl

civil twilight

I am a firm believer in that everyone has list of bands set aside that will always take him or her back to an old memory, frozen in another time and place.  People don’t listen to this band everyday, nor do they even listen to them often, but they always find themselves returning again and again every so often.  These bands aren’t necessarily the person’s favorite or even play the best music, but they are always present, ready to whisk the listener back in time.

Civil Twilight is at the top of my list.

I don’t listen to these guys very often anymore – their 2010 self-titled album was an absolute favorite for me in high school – but when I do, I’m instantly transported back to my car during a hot afternoon, traveling home after a long day at school.  The windows are down, the music turned all the way up, and I long for it to be summer again in a time of burnt orange leaves.

This is what Civil Twilight is to me – a band reminiscent of change.  I haven’t had a chance to listen to their newest album Story of an Immigrant from 2015, but I’m sure that it is just as potently atmospheric as their self-titled and Holy Weather records.  The lyrics and the overall nostalgic feel of their first two albums are what drew me in in the first place.  They are looking for any meaning to their daily life – “Anybody Out There” and “Letters from the Sky” are prime examples of their soul searching.  I’m someone who likes to think about thinking and how other people think, and with this music, Civil Twilight definitely give me a look through their eyes.  In high school I found some sort of enlightenment through this music, and any time I listen to it now, I remember why I fell in love with it at all.

I remember back in the day Civil Twilight was compared to Muse, with their strong bass line style and use of guitar as Stephen McKellar’s voice floats above the instruments.  Some article or review compared McKellar to Matt Bellamy, Muse’s utterly talented vocalist/guitarist, but in my opinion this is no comparison to make.  I can hear how McKellar’s vocals may be reminiscent of Bellamy’s, but the two bands’ music are so very different from each other.  Where Muse is more outerspace-like, Civil Twilight is earthy.  Both are very orchestrated, atmospheric, and alive and moving, but Civil Twilight feels more realistic.  They’re an indie band while Muse is progressive rock.  When I listen to Muse, I feel like I am transported to another world apart from this one, but Civil Twilight brings me to their side and keeps me grounded.

Their self-titled album is honest and raw in their approach to music.  They take time to be thoughtful in their lyrics (“If life is an ocean, we’re only on the surface” or “I’m just a soldier fighting for someone else”), which is emphasized by the snappy ticks of the drum, the floating, warped, ever-present guitar, and rich bassline moving underneath everything.  They successfully thread upbeat joy with a mysterious yearning for an understanding of life.

“Human” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, as it is made up of only McKellar’s voice and a backing piano.  It asks the difficult question – what does it mean to be human?  “I am just an image of something so much greater/I am just a picture frame, I am not the painter.”  McKellar’s voice is fragile, permeating the air with his questions and his attempt to answer them.  “It’s only love, it’s only pain, it’s only fear that runs through my veins.  It’s all the things you can’t explain that make us human.”  Think about that for a while.

Holy Weather, their 2012 sophomore album is quite a bit different from their first; their sound isn’t so much a drastic change as it is a growth from who they used to be.  It sounds more mature and put together.  Where their self-titled was more of a scattered pondering of life, Holy Weather tells a story of a man journeying to find his place in the world.  It is even more bass heavy and has much more depth musically and lyrically.  “Holy Weather,” “Highway of Fallen Kings,” and even the bonus track “Wasted” never fail to send chills down my spine.  A lot of this album reminds me of water; the current of sound drags me along for the ride while it sends wave after wave crashing against the shore of my mind and ears.

I like Civil Twilight because they are full of hope.  So much music these days is degrading or angry, and even those artists who try to be philosophical fail to stay optimistic.  But these guys manage to stay thoughtful and hopeful at the same time.  Their track, “River” says it all; “Take a little dive into the river, baby.  I don’t mind if we never get out.”  They’re willing to go there, to take chances, and aren’t afraid to deal with the consequences without getting downtrodden.  

Let Civil Twilight’s rich, intense sound fill you up from head to toe.  I’ll meet you on the other side.

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