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George Lewis, Jr., known as Twin Shadow, calls in from somewhere in Hollywood on his 35th birthday. He doesn’t mention it until I do, chuckling gently in acknowledgment of the occasion. A psychic told him he’s going to be massive, but there’s nothing grand on the docket other than a few surprises from his girlfriend and a wish to take it easy. Approaching four years into his tenure, Los Angeles finally feels more home than retreat, but he maintains skepticism. “It’s got everything you need to make it feel like home, but… the stereotype is very real,” Lewis says. “You’re always a little like ‘Man, what is this fake-ass place?’”
Lewis, born in the Dominican Republic with Florida roots, left his decade-long home in Brooklyn after his 2012 album Confess left him more vulnerable than ever. It’s a collection of records with bravado by volume, where romantic tragedies and personal turmoil raged beneath the ego of a perfectionist pop star, withering away from the consequences of lust and loneliness while thriving in the spoils of his villainous turns. Once the bad boy amplified himself, the truth in his transgressions were drowned in the sound as the real world’s misery continued to cave him in. Freshly into his 30s, Lewis moved to Downtown L.A. in 2014, working on his motorcycle in solitude, waiting for the shift. Upon leaving the indie label 4AD for Warner Bros., he released Eclipse in 2015 as a moment of rebirth and clarity, shedding his image and repairing the broken things to regain control of his life.
Caer is the Spanish verb for “to fall,” and it’s Twin Shadow at his most rejuvenated and authentic self. In its brighter moments, Lewis sounds content, even unabashedly happy, but his arrival came at the price of everything falling apart and surviving long enough to find what lies on the other side. While framed as a negative, even shameful aspect of the human condition, falling presents the opportunity to come undone and rise again. The listener bears witness to a physical and emotional rebirth, and newfound reflections on past perspectives. While Lewis lightly jabs at the “secret mechanic” side of his personality, the artwork rejects the overexposed normalcy of the human face to hide beneath a motorcycle helmet, head buried in his hands with a chain on his wrist and a scar on his left hand. The scar’s a reminder of the reconstructive surgery from his team’s near-fatal 2015 bus crash in Colorado; today, he views that moment as one of many pivotal signs to recalibrate his autopilot life and remain thankful for the folks around him. He still rides motorcycles, and teaches others sometimes; his philosophy on riding merges perfectly with how he falls.
“The deal is that… at some point, your coordination is not gonna match physics,” Lewis says. “Physics is gonna take over and put you on the ground, no matter what. I don’t care who you are, it’s gonna happen to you. You have to let that happen to you, as scary as that is; you have to be be accepting that that’s gonna happen. That way, when it does happen, you can either learn to say no, or you can learn how to do it better. But until you’ve literally fallen off a motorcycle and fucked yourself up real bad, you don’t know shit about motorcycling. I don’t know a single great motorcyclist who hasn’t fallen badly off their bike. Pain is enlightenment, always. That’s an age-old truth, no one needs me to tell them that.”
Lewis created Caer over several locations in the last two years: Malibu, Venice, Big Bear, Echo Park, Hollywood, Frogtown, “the desert,” and somewhere in Minnesota. He didn’t confine himself to the cemetery chapel where Eclipse was labored over, but he maintained solitude while tapping into his spontaneity, pushing back against curating the “ideal situations” to create without distractions. Static creation’s always been counterintuitive to his process, but Lewis’s learned how to balance his default tendency for immediacy with the premium he places on craftsmanship. It’s pop music that’s less concerned with being the best or the most different, but the most honest. The stakes remain high in his songwriting, but the new Twin Shadow places a grand spotlight on simple circumstances. “Saturdays” finds Lewis and HAIM loading the weight of the world onto the moonlit dance floor, two lovers weighing the risk of falling for one another on purpose. “Brace” embodies this turn by articulating the protagonist’s lingering anxieties of the inevitable over a melody bright as a summer sky, trading past fears for present excitement in falling wherever one may. Its chorus serves as a primer for the album’s theme:
“Sometimes we brace /
And then fall /
Sometimes we don’t feel right /
Sometimes we don’t fall at all”
With Caer being the second Twin Shadow album with Warner, Lewis expresses optimism in a new day where the industry’s adjusting to the ways people listen rather than clinging to dying models. As an album artist in an increasingly single-driven ecosystem, thriving on capturing and keeping attention, Lewis greets the microwave climate with a desire to match the rabid mob with music that’s raw and timely. But whether Twin Shadow can disappear for another three years to live and work is anyone’s guess by what next year’s chaos may become; that said, Lewis remains concerned about how much we sacrifice beauty or freedom, maintaining that the former must be protected by time and craft.
“Nature has taken the time to craft all of its beautiful things, and it’s taken millions of years for flowers and leaves and cactus and all this stuff to do what it does and stay here, and have this staying power,” Lewis says. “We have to think of our art through the same way: there is an impulsiveness that we should adopt and use and spit out music and create content, create content, create content. We should have that energy, but we should also have the willingness to spend time and make something that feels like it’s gonna last. We do live in a very temporary, throwaway society. We live in a very temporary, throwaway marketplace. We live in a very temporary, throwaway music business. And I think it’s very important for artists to look at people that took a lot of time: when you listen to Sade records, you’re like ‘Damn, why are they so good?’ They’re so good because it took her ten years in-between each one. That’s realness that you can’t really dispute.”
2018’s ever-expansive demand for Black art - carnivorous or well-intentioned - remains codified and stratified by what kind of Black (they) think you are, down to body type, skin tone, origin, class, every intersection imaginable. It makes Lewis recall his Florida childhood, with a white father and a Dominican mother: one day, he came home from school and asked his mom whether he was Black or white. Her response: “What do they think?” Once Lewis described how he’d always been called a nigger, constantly fighting other kids who urged him to pick a side, she replied: “Then you’re Black as fuck.” Meanwhile, after a conscious rejection of indie rock ambitions in favor of pop, Lewis continues to field the obvious questions of how it feels being a Black man playing white music as if “white music” isn’t all rooted and stolen from Black folks as is. In reality, Twin Shadow’s as much influenced by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen as Otis Redding and Nat King Cole, and Lewis sees heroes in folks like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper more than most white artists out right now.
“I never filed [my music] under ‘classic singer-songwriter white boy music’ because it never came from that place, it always came from me,” Lewis says. “So, it’s interesting to be in 2018 and to really still have people having an identity crisis with me. But at the same time, I look at an artist like Prince and I’m like ‘You know what? The goal always is to just be defined by yourself.’ If you ask people what Prince was, they’re not gonna be able to put him in a box; they’re just gonna talk about him as he was. And that’s where I’m at with it; I think it’s hilarious that we still love our categories; what’s interesting is, the music lovers are the ones who embrace the categories.”
The new Twin Shadow concerns himself with speaking from the heart before anything else; an important theme of Caer involves Lewis balancing his internal and external dialogue, digging through the wreckage and remnants of memory for the grace and maturity he longs for. The machismo exterior disappears, and the cold directness of prior works repurposes itself for remorse and reckoning, never sparing the man Twin Shadow used to be. Standouts like “Little Woman” and “Littlest Things” pose questions and answers to former lovers, owning past anger and wrongdoing with a sincerity that neither condescends to the women he addresses nor leaves his intentions out to dry behind the wall of his manhood. Our patriarchal society, and the privileges men have in perpetuating the violence necessary to maintain it, are called forward. Lewis is trying to find how to make room for genuine changes within himself and where he stands in the music community without reveling in symbolic victories that won’t undo what harms us all.
“In the relationship I was in at the time of the accident, I was with someone who was very perceptive and had a lot of healing qualities I took for granted because of my male ego,” Lewis recalls. “It took me too long to realize how helpful she was being. So, a lot of these songs are about that: the male ego, and how it’s run its course in history; it’s put us exactly where we are right now, on this weird downward spiral. It’s not time for us to bow out, but it’s time for us to reevaluate how we behave, what we’re worth, and what we can do to help the less-privileged step up and take their power.”
The questions remain far more intriguing, but Caer has no shortage of resolutions: while Lewis once rejected most desires to make more politically-explicit Twin Shadow music - though he’d like to participate in how he’s most useful - he’s made the most politically-explicit music of his career by sharpening his personal lens to the finest point. “Too Many Colors” attempts to reconcile his role in the beautiful and miserable existence he built, and by album closer “Runaway,” he’s made peace with another simple truth: “Nothing’s gonna change unless you change.” He lays himself bare, detailing repaired relationships with his parents while vowing to rid himself of what no longer serves him. Then, he’s right back outside the window to sing his lover a song again. But to know this album is to know that another fall’s inevitable, though the George Lewis, Jr. reemerging to the spotlight is far better equipped to handle that expectation and chronicle the other side of the moment with an arresting honesty that’s devoted to positivity. He will fail as he figures it all out; if this world’s worth anything, we’ll do the same.
“I’ve realized that human beings experience a lot of the same things at the same time because we’re affected by the world in the same way,” Lewis says. “There are waves that come and hit all of us, but it affects everyone. So I don’t have to sit there and think about how I’m gonna talk about my generation, or talk to my peers, or talk to people older [or] younger than me… I know now that giving an honest report of how I’m feeling is going to be universal in some way, shape or form. I don’t have to think about ‘Am I on topic? Am I covering the current issues?’ Anyone expressing themselves right now is going to touch on all of these things regardless of whether they’re hitting it on the nose or not.”
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.