Twain: Alt-folk’s best kept secret

“A voice for the ineffable that must be heard” is how Big Thief frontwoman Adrienne Lenker describes Twain, a folk project from singer-songwriter Mt. Davidson. And I’ll be damned if they aren’t right.

Twain released Rare Feeling in late 2017/early 2018, and it’s been a while since I’ve come across an album that envelops the listener so entirely, that lifts them from a world that feels less and less personal with each passing year, that places them atop a 38-minute long sun-kissed cloud and leaves them there to ponder the peculiarities of life in a sombre yet optimistic haze. When chaos surrounds you, listen to this album.

Lead single ‘Solar Pilgrim’ opens up the record, introducing the hallmarks of Twain’s music – floating guitar, a sparse rhythm section, and Davidson’s disarmingly sincere voice at the centre of it all, spinning ruminations that are spiritual without being overbearing, passionate yet inviting. Despite there being an undoubtedly earthy quality to his voice, the arrangement as a whole is celestial, describing the soul parting from the body in a sanguine and ethereal style. It’s a sober moment when he realises that his time roaming the planet is limited, but the song shows comfort in its belief that there other spaces to explore. Five minutes fly by without a second blink, the last line delivered with a rougher energy, a hint of things to come throughout the rest of the album.

“Now my soul is a pilgrim
And my body is barely keeping up
And one day, it won’t keep up any mor
e.

And on that day
I’ll go sailing through the clouds
Through the stars
On a solar highway to my god”

The following track Davidson leads off with a question – “Every minute I spend with you is like eternity, so why should I get jealous about your boyfriend?”. It’s a back-and-forth conversation with the self, a search for understanding not only of jealousy and love, but later of love’s place in an egocentric society (as well as its relation to death). The crescendo that swells towards the end of ‘The Sorcerer’ is one of the most stunning moments of the album, a cathartic vocal performance that wears much of its emotion on its sleeve whilst still leaving the listener wanting to start the song over again and peel back further layers of contemplation. Similar moments appear at other points in the album, although it’s perhaps the refrain of “You’re gonna have to learn to love the part of yourself that you’ve hated for so long” during the song ‘Hank & Georgia’ that remains the most memorable. Those instants where Davidson reaches for the higher notes in his register are required listening for honesty in music.

‘Black Chair’ appears in the latter half of the album, a masterclass in the sentiment of romantic loss characterised by the repetitive mantra-like crooning of “into your loneliness” following the first verse, which soon gives way to the more wrenching interpolation of “into my loneliness” to close out the song. Despite its light and airy instrumental, a piano occasionally joining the affair, it is undoubtedly a heavy song. The juxtaposition that comes with the fact that it proceeds the distorted guitar-featuring ‘Rare Feeling V.2’ only serves to highlight this mood:

“I only want to get closer to anything at all”

Most recently Twain shared a new song titled ‘Young God (gotta lotta feeling)’ in preparation for the release of a forthcoming double EP, ‘2 E.P.s’. It’s a golden-hour song with a more upbeat lilt when compared to the songs on ‘Rare Feeling’, twinkling piano following Davidson’s vocal melody, a resilient track that still holds the trademark Twain outlook in discussing “the disintegration of a really important relationship, and surrendering to that, and then feeling at the end a sort of weird gratitude for being alive in spite of or because of all the heartache and turmoil that that was bringing about”.

Conventional song structures are eschewed, maximalist instrumentation left by the wayside, and what remains is an extraordinarily human warmth. Twain reminds us that life is made of fleeting moments, and for however joyous we feel in the high moments, for however sorrowful we feel in the low moments, he has provided melodies for the optimist in us all.

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