Band of the Day

2012.05.25

Civil Twilight

Dramatic U2 inspired rock with an excitingly gritty edge
'Cause even though you left me here, I have nothing left to fear, these are the only walls that hold me here
lyrics from Letters From The Sky

Civil Twilight is a power trio originally from Cape Town, South Africa. The band has drawn comparisons to early U2 due to their fiery and passionate vocals over alternative rock instrumentation. Brothers Andrew (guitar, vocals) and Steven McKellar (vocals, bass, keyboards) teamed up with high school classmate Richard Wouters (drums) to form the band in 1996. The group played the club scene for some years before moving to LA in 2005 and finally recorded and released their debut album Human in 2007 on One October. Their second album was self-titled and re-released in 2009 on Wind Up Records, followed by the much anticipated 2012 release Holy Weather. The band has had songs featured on numerous TV shows and movies including House, MD, The Vampire Diaries, and One Tree Hill.

Civil Twilight is one of those bands you'd have trouble placing. They encapsulate the essence of big, dramatic rock and roll and resist pigeonholing in a certain time and place, which is fitting considering how much they've moved around. The three-piece originated in Cape Town, South Africa in the late 1990s, but relocated to the U.S. In 2005. First arriving in Los Angeles, then later decamping to Nashville, where they fell in love with the local scene, despite their complete lack of country DNA. The band's prime touchstone is without a doubt U2, with vocalist Steven McKellar borrowing Bono's fist to the heavens wail.

The major pitfall facing bands that follow U2's stadium-rock blue print is of course overly-dramatic songs that come off as sappy rather than epic. While Civil Twilight does occasionally slip a toe into this pit, they leap boldly over it at their best moments, which appear throughout their 2012 album Holy Weather. Civil Twilight skilfully mix ballads and more hard rocking moments throughout the album, but shine the brightest with drums pounding and guitars growling.

“Fire Escape” benefits from a sense of exhilarating fun mixed in with the dramatics. They lay down a funky metronome of a beat while a sly, slinky distorted guitar adds a meaty, wicked bounce to the track. “Now we're slaves to the beat” sings vocalist Steven McKellar, well said. The impassioned chorus is just as satisfying as you expect, with drums and gravelly guitar ramping up energetically. “River” mixes acoustic and electric guitars for a subtly rocking sound and a killer chorus that comes rushing in like the quick moving current of the river McKellar sings about.

One of Holy Weather's best touches is the glitchy, over-driven edges on many of the sounds; everything from synths to guitars to drums. It gives the album a kind of gritty insistence and muscularity, a lot like The Flaming Lips excellent 2009 album Embryonic.

Wherever they come from, and however you want to categorize them, Civil Twilight have made their best album yet, an album that hits the high notes of fun, big and dramatic all at the same time.