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Civil Twilight - Civil Twilight

2010-05-26 13:02
Civil Twilight

No doubt you've had a swoony moment to "Letters from the Sky", a song that's been inescapable on local radio. It's a big song (anything with 'sky' in the title usually aims for it) and has enough minor chord melancholia to tug on a few heartstrings before building to its rolling crescendo.

Of course, if you’ve listened to any rock music over the last 20 years, even by accident – U2, Muse, Radiohead, even a band as brain-numbingly bland as Nickelback – none of what Civil Twilight have to offer will feel new to you. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Look at what Coldplay have achieved without re-inventing the wheel.

Earnest vocals, almost-epic soundscapes, the unbearable lightness of the lyrics all conspire to create a very pretty, easily digestible package. And for all their slick, pricey US production and marketing sheen, there's something distinctly South African about them. The grungy basslines? The searching, still-developing vocals of Steven McKellar? It's a tough one to pin down, but it's there. Once "Soldier" comes around, their identity is a certainty, its reggae-like progression recalling Freshlyground, before the stadium-sized rock-outs step in, of course.

The songwriting is strong and graceful, particularly on the ballads "On The Surface", "Trouble" and the heart-stoppingly beautiful "Human". Really gorgeous songs. The album gets progressively darker, with themes of death ("Quiet in My Town", which was used during a funeral scene on the US TV show One Tree Hill last year), disillusionment and the temptation to run away from all the difficulties.

One gripe I have, though, is that lyrically, Civil Twilight has a lot of work to do. There's plenty of emoting going on, just very little in the way of real emotion. A line like: "There's one way out and one way in/Back to the beginning/There's one way back to home again/To where I feel forgiven" sounds like something a Chardonnay-sipping, Paulo Coelho-loving book club would come up with by committee. So while no-one is going to accuse Civil Twilight of being particularly imaginative, they're onto a good start.

Like Die Antwoord, Seether and Locnville, Civil Twilight is a South African band who've found a wider following in the land of stars and stripes. Unlike say, Die Antwoord, Civil Twilight sound alarmingly like an American band, dramatic and assured and a little bit too polished.

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