“The level of band we are, everything we do is to make a living. We’ve not had a massive hit, so we’re very much like, ‘Let’s do another record – I can afford to still be in a band.” So Twin Atlantic frontman Sam McTrusty told NME last year backstage at Glasgow’s TRNSMT Festival, a homecoming for an act who themselves itself in limbo. 2020’s ‘POWER’, their fifth album, represented an overt stab at finding that “massive hit” via overproduced synth-pop – something they could dine out on for years to come. And yet our interview found McTrusty, now a member down following last year’s departure of drummer Craig Kneale, about to play the mid-card at the band’s hometown festival.
Kneale’s departure and lukewarm reception to ‘POWER’ perhaps also sent a jolt through Twin Atlantic, resulting in ‘Transparency’, the band’s weirdest, funniest and most appealing release to date. Forced inside by the pandemic, with his wife working on COVID wards, and recording while looking after his young child, McTrusty worked remotely with LA-based friend and collaborator Jacknife Lee on songs that not only eschew the pop direction of ‘POWER’, but also the soulless arena-rock under which Twin Atlantic made their name with 2009 debut ‘Vivarium’.
‘Transparency’ feels off-the-cuff and bare bones in a way that the band have rarely attempted. It’s not that songs don’t have a lot of moving parts – the production, the record’s main strength, is video game-y, often packing layer upon layer of noise as songs reach their chorus or climax (‘Get Famous’) or using samples (‘Bang On The Gong’) – but the tracks feel tossed-off, light and fun. McTrusty’s voice, not a particularly expressive one usually, works effectively with the talky style he adopts here, matching Lee’s clanking beats to create something that feels raw and edgy. Opener Keep Your Head Up is downbeat, sadboi, grievance-airing electro-pop, somewhere between Arab Strap and Death Cab For Cutie. Sometimes McTrusty’s sardonic turn-of-phrase can jar with his cookie-cutter image – but it’s never been clear before that he could write songs this self-aware or funny, and that’s a surprising enough an experience to get over any clunkers.
The record sags in the middle when the pace dies down (on ‘Haunt’ and ‘It’s Getting Dark’), but ‘Transparency’ never overstays its welcome. It may not produce the “massive hit” McTrusty once pined for, but it’s a sign there’s life in the old dog yet.
Release date: January 7
Record label: Believe