Twin Shadow’s debut album, Forget, encapsulated the sound of determined first-timers looking to break through in 2010. Beach House was eagerly trying to redefine the elusive genre of shoegaze with Teen Dream, Tame Impala would embark on a notable career with Innerspeaker, Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi tried his hand at a solo career by releasing Go and Sleigh Bells garnered critical acclaim for Treats.
Twin Shadow, born George Lewis Jr., didn’t nestle neatly into this bustling climate. Forget was a hazy, despondent record with irresistible grooves and a softness that revealed itself after a few uninterrupted listens. His sound, which was initially pigeonholed by critics as a modern iteration of ‘80s nostalgia, trivialized the innate complexity of a young Black artist who was freely experimenting.
Regardless of the assumptions that came with constructing synth pop, Lewis Jr. made the trek to a major label. His last two albums, 2018’s Caer and 2015’s Eclipse, came out through Warner Bros. and kept his signature smoothness despite the application of mainstream sheen. His self-titled fifth LP is being released under his own imprint Cheree Cheree, suggesting a return to a more hands-on approach. Quite impressively, you can hear this new level of intimacy in the details.
The singer has always been open about his own personal struggles, which have encompassed everything from substance abuse and depression to love. However, Lewis Jr.’s music has consistently magnified the beauty of the pain instead of its harrowing effects. Over the years, songs like “Castles in the Snow,” “Five Seconds” and the HAIM-assisted “Saturdays” proved gripping with their contagious melodies and climactic intensity. However, there was always an intentional disconnect between Lewis Jr. and the emotional content of his songs. It was as if he was on the outside, viewing the dramatics of his relationships and narrating their demise for an intrigued audience.
Twin Shadow strips away the singer’s detached veneer and is a long-awaited breath of fresh air. The record’s first single, “Johnny & Jonnie,” is a warm, Caribbean-flavored romp that is pure light-hearted fun. The artist explained the meaning behind the song to Stereogum back in March: “Johnny and Jonnie” is a song inspired by some photographs taken by Danny Lyon of teenagers in border towns near El Paso in the ‘70s … the photos made me day dream about two young men who are lovers escaping to New Orleans to find a different life.”
This wistfulness extends to the acoustic guitar stylings of “Alemania”; echoey vocals give way to a simple and angelic chorus, and Lewis Jr. even tweeted about how its romanticism was “a toast to the good times in Germany and the Dominican Republic.” Lewis Jr. hails from the latter and parts of the album were recorded in the Dominican Republic at FAMA Studios.
The soulful funk and bass of existentialist “Is There Any Love” could have been plucked straight from a fast-paced ‘70s Blaxploitation film—it boldly stands out on the project for all the right reasons. Lewis Jr. broaches a promising world of psychedelia with “Gated Windows” and its intergalactic sounds, but unfortunately doesn’t take the full plunge. The bridge for “Brown Sugar” shows a wordy singer trying to cram as many syllables into his mouth as possible as some sort of spectacular buildup, but it (and the chorus that follows) fall flat.
But that’s the best part about Twin Shadow; Lewis Jr. is dedicated to taking all of these stylistic swings, no matter how many times he misses. That kind of bravery shows how dedicated he is to the art of reinvention. Rounding out Twin Shadow with “I Wanna Be Here (Shotgun)” reiterates the new sonic direction that Lewis Jr. insists on embarking on. It’s not as accessible as his previous projects, but is still exciting to listen to since it breaks free from the industry pressures and inhibitions to which artists are routinely subjected. This particular collection of songs is an anomaly in the brooding Twin Shadow catalogue. But after 10 years in the game, he still knows how to use whimsicality—and risk-taking—to inspire a sense of endless adventure.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.