When I was first given this assignment I really had no clue what to expect. My boss had pitched the band to me as a South African power-pop trio named Civil Twilight. Not familiar with the band, I was clouded by all the North American social bias’ that come hand in hand with the word “twilight” (vampires, irrational prepubescent love and such). But after my first listen of Civil Twilight’s sophomore LP Holy Weather I was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t have been more wrong. The band had found a way to project a genuinely candid look into the emotions that lie dormant within its central songwriters and spun it into storybook album. The band is made up of the brothers Andrew and Steven McKellar as well as Andrew’s classmate Richard Wouters. Holy Weather shows a substantial growth from their debut self-titled album that received commercial acclaim when featured on popular tween shows such as One Tree Hill and Vampire Diaries.
The first song on Holy Weather is an up-tempo pop driven attempt to start the album off on a catchy foot—mission accomplished. “River” has a good blend of rock/pop that keeps your ears interested and at the slightest instance of a drab repetition, Civil Twilight breaks the song down and changes the tone into a Radiohead-style bridge that appeals to the dreamy landscape lover that resides within. The harmonies in the choruses also add a washed out surf tone that allows “River” to effectively differentiate its self from its similar “in-rainbows” counterpart. (Because in my head I categorize Civil Twilight as the modern baby of Thom Yorke and Bono I will be alluding to them quite often).
Keeping up the momentum with the title track “Holy Weather,” Civil Twilight sets you up with an acoustic arpeggio intro and an almost haunting set of harmonies before a solid bassy kick starts to drive the song. Steven McKeller shows a tortured side in the choruses going in-and-out of falsetto while singing lines like “You know that no matter how hard I scream, I can still hear your voice in my head,” and, “You are the wind between the snow I can can’t escape you.” These lyrics feel genuine and can easily be related to your own life convictions. Steven shows the burden of love repeating the line, “Passion is this weight on my shoulders.” This line resonates in your head slowing the momentum down before the chorus kicks back in. The use of under layered synth to keep the instrumentation from becoming stale is also a fine compliment in the track.
The single on the album is called “Fire Escape”. It is the most accessible song on the album and takes a step back from the emotional drenched lyrical content and uses more generic lines like, “Now we’re just slaves to the beat,” and, “I want to feel something.” Beside this obvious attempt of commercial appeal it is a staple in the early half of the album. The drummer hammers dance into your body, while a chunky guitar alternates with a tone driven U2-sounding guitar to create an ultimately catchy riff. Steven takes on a Bono façade that I believe is only due to the guitar that sounds like it came from an early U2 album.
The next notable song on Holy Weather is the long titled, “Every Walk I’ve Ever Taken Has Been In Your Direction.” It took 5 songs to show up but the cinematic track was placed perfectly in this storybook album. Slowing down the tempo and changing the pace of the track that almost forces you to reminisce about dramatic memories. This was placed back to back with “Highway of Fallen Kings,” another nostalgia causing track. Civil Twilight displays they can experiment with haunting synths and still maintain a commercial accessibility.
The last song, “Doorway,” is a bit of a disappointment. Due to the content and the emotional ups and downs of Holy Weather that makes it feel like a storyline, “Doorway” seems out of place. It displays pop in all the wrong ways and because of its generic vocal melodies it gives no closure to what has occurred previously in the album. Civil Twilight is more than capable of pinching your heart chords,so this choice to make “Doorway” the last song reads as a little confusing. With that being said, even with the awkward ending you will still want revisit the album more then once.
Overall Civil Twilight’s album Holy Weather is a strong display of emotion wrapped in catchy pop. Every song on the album—except for “Doorway”—appeared systematically placed to bring you on a cinematic journey and back. Steven McKellar’s passionate voice over the dramatic chord progressions really sets the tone for how the album hits you. Even though I’ve labeled Civil Twilight as a band that sounds similar to Radiohead and U2, they have still coined their own sound. Every musician has to draw influences from somewhere and if those bands inspire them, then so be it. I can only hope the media doesn’t cause Civil Twilight to pull a Muse and change their sound just because it was similar sounding to another band—*cough* Radiohead. If you get a chance, I would suggest seeing them live during their North American tour this year, as hopefully I will be seeing them at Summerfest.