It is hard to listen to Twin Shadow‘s new self-titled album without being transported to a different place or time. Twin’s analog approach to his soulful tunes feels like they don’t quite belong in individual headphones in the era of digital music but rather in spaces of collective joy where the energy is high. Three years in the making, Twin Shadow says that trying to find the sense of joy that creating music initially provided for him is precisely what he was searching for when he worked on the songs for this latest album, which features previously released favorites like “Sugarcane” and “Lonestar.” And to find music’s joyful roots, he traveled to his native Dominican Republic.
“I’m at this place, musically, where I feel that I’m back [to] doing music for the same reason that I did music in the first place, which was that music gave me this huge sense of joy, and this huge sense of purpose,” Twin Shadow said in an interview with Remezcla. “And as soon as you have some success with that particular feeling, it’s very hard to get it back — because everything becomes about what is expected of you because people are expecting something of you.”
This realization led Twin Shadow, born George Lewis in the Dominican Republic, to travel to Santo Domingo to record part of the album in FAMA studio. He said he sought a revolution.
“This is a big reason [of] why I went to Santo Domingo to start [the album]; it was because I wanted to feel this feeling. It’s much like my birth. You know, I was born in Santo Domingo. But I quickly moved to the States and then grew up there. And my parents have moved back [to the Dominican Republic],” he said.
While the eponymous album is a nod to the golden era of soul and punk —Lewis says his influences range from The Clash to Stevie Wonder — there is undoubtedly a Dominican and Caribbean undertone to the album. At times, it’s in the soft tropical fusion sounds of songs like “Brown Sugar,” and other times, it’s mentioned in the lyrics of songs like “Gated Windows.”
Lewis says creating his fifth studio album was a process that led to studio sessions where he connected to a higher power.
I felt very much like this record. It wasn’t immediate, but slowly these clouds started breaking away from me, and I was able to communicate with the higher power type of thing.
“I felt very much like this record. It wasn’t immediate, but slowly these clouds started breaking away from me, and I was able to communicate with the higher power type of thing,” Shadow said. “In most people’s heads, there’s always a voice, a voice or many voices that are happening simultaneously to you doing whatever it is you’re doing… There’s a moment when those voices stop — and you’re so present in your body and in what you’re doing.”
The studio FAMA is located in the heart of the zona colonial, an area with 16th-century buildings that signal America’s brutal beginnings right on the island. Yet, it has also become a sanctuary for Dominican artists to be in community in the local park or its cobblestone streets. While the culture of La Zona is lively, most of the times it’s soft, a kind of peacefulness that diverges greatly from the loud streets of major cities in the U.S. And while Lewis didn’t seek to go to DR to make Dominican music, in this setting he said he could feel the history of the Dominican Republic, and be more in tune with his own feelings.
Those feelings unquestionably come through in this album. In the track “Get Closer,” Lewis sings about the idea of becoming intimate with someone without having to say ‘I love you while in “Modern Man,” he sings of a man being vulnerable in a relationship.
And while the album is ripe with emotion, Lewis says he hopes that when listeners hit play, they are entertained and transported to a safer place. “I hope that they’re transported away from the troubles, boredom, or from anything that they don’t feel like feeling.”
This album certainly accomplishes that. It is a trip to a subaltern dreamscape that feels familiar and joyful, made of plucked strings, sharp percussion sounds, and the kind of high energy we all are yearning for these days.