Veteran Minneapolis Duo Score With Tuneful Soft Rock Gem!

This slab of red vinyl got plopped on the turntable and listened to before the unnoticed press blurb stuffed into the gatefold jacket made returning it from where it came impossible.

“No way these hook-drenched, mid-tempo pop tunes, packed with achingly beautiful melodies, meticulously arranged, played and recorded could be the work of first-timers,” I kept telling myself as one after another unfolded to my surprise and general delight.

That proved to be the case. The Minneapolis based duo of John Munson and Matt Wilson who are The Twilight Hours, have been around for decades, beginning with Trip Shakespeare in the late ‘80s and later, minus Matt, but including his brother Dan, as Semisonic, which scored a number one hit in 1998 with “Closing Time” contained on the platinum album Feeling Strangely Fine. “Closing Time” has been in commercials and even on a Simpson’s episode.

Matt Wilson recorded a solo album, then the duo re-united as The Flops; there was a jazz album minus Matt and now there’s this one due out at the end of January.

Stereo Night? You gotta love the title and believe me, the sound will kill you. These guys are doing what they love, but they’re hitting a bullseye on a target known as the “audiophile market,” with an album that’s so conceptually retro it might just be ahead of its time (one tune refers to “scratches in the groove”).

You’ll hear snippets of familiar pop/rock elements embedded within the smartly conceived arrangements, but will you be able to identify where you heard them? Perhaps when you get to “Goodbye Good Life” and then “Stay With You,” you’ll hear the Colin Blunstone/Odessey and Oracle connection.

If you like that album and don’t find it too icky-sweet you will gobble this one up with gusto, though these guys do occasionally veer too close to Wings territory—and I don’t mean Band on the Run Wings! But hell, if the worst thing one can say about this duo is that it sounds like The Zombies and Wings, how bad can it be?

So if you like The Zombies, The Odds, Big Star and The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee;” The Cars, Marshall Crenshaw, Pernice Brothers, Bread, Split Enz, Squeeze (minus that band’s playfulness) Queen’s ballads, soaring harmonies, juicy overdriven Tom Scholz/Brian May-like solo guitar fills and say, Fleetwood Mac’s “Spare Me A Little,” from the Bare Trees album, you’ll definitely dig all ten tunes on this album, even the bordering on treacle “Winter Blue” because it’s so damn well played, arranged and recorded and especially because the next tune, “Queen of Tomorrow” is harder, funnier and catchier— and you’re guaranteed to love the lyrics about a break up caused by the guy screwing with the girl’s stereo and her subsequent rock star success. There’s a pathetic/funny story twist not unlike Fountains of Wayne’s “Hackensack.”

Is there an element of calculation to the oh-so-earnest game plan? Yes. Will you enjoy being manipulated? If the last paragraph entices you, then yes. Even if the opener, “Dreams” strikes you as a bit saccharine, you’ll marvel at the craft and appreciate the placement perfection of the production elements. It’s a pop gem. The next tune injects another great hook but doesn’t hold up quite as well as it mimics The Cars and ends ala “You’re Just What I Needed.”

The laggard tempoed “Alone,” built upon a repeated triad and fitted with a soft kick drum and pedal steel fill may strike you as Shins-mope but once “My Return” gets rolling you’ll drop your reservations and buy into The Twilight Hours.

The lyrics are appropriately introspective, and deal with love, regret, abandonment, vulnerability, fear, nostalgia—the kind of subject matter that breed minor chord, sunset reverie.

The duo gets plenty of backing help, with drums, strings, sax, percussion, pedal steel and the like and with great engineering and mixing. Do a Google search and you can hear and see many of these tunes performed live, but to really hear it in all of its high fidelity glory, get the well-pressed red LP (by GZ in The Czech Republic through San Francisco's Pirates Press).

There’s not a false note struck on this exquisitely crafted, superbly recorded, highly recommended pop gem.

You can buy the vinyl at the group's website: