When I reviewed Twin Sister‘s previous release, a re-issue of their first two EPs, this time last year, I got a little bit sidetracked. While the band’s use of the Internet Hype Machine was certainly worthy of discussion – on the back of their two freely-distributed EPs they wound up in third place on Pitchfork’s “Best Hopes for 2011″ list – it was far from the most notable thing about the band.
Focussing on a band’s chosen method of releasing an album, or on their cultural background, or on the clothes they wear, or the friends they keep, has the unnappealing side-effect of chronically under-selling the band’s music. More people know that Vampire Weekend are those posh kids from New England than know what their latest album sounded like; more could tell you that the Fleet Foxes live up a tree and host communities of rodents in their beards than could hum you one of their tunes; let’s not get ourselves started on Odd Future. It’s an interesting and problematic node, where music journalism meets music criticism. In the search for a unique angle on a band, everyone ends up writing about the same thing.
A recent interview on Frontier Psychiatrist with Twin Sister highlighted many of these same issues. Twin Sister are a band who, in lieu of actually releasing any music (it’s been three years between their first EP and this, their debut album), have become more myth than reality for the music press. As the interviewer there points out, it’s become impossible to read about the band without certain buzz terms cropping up and cliches being trotted out. Consdiering the paucity of music the band have so far given us to write about, this is maybe fair enough.
The problem is that none of the handles which attach themselves to the band are either relevant or meaningful. To keep repeating that they are “from Long Island-via-Brooklyn” is to suggest that they inhabit the musical traditions of either of those places, which they don’t. That they are a “quintet” or a “five-piece” would be more relevant if Twin Sister actually sounded like a band, with five different people playing five different instruments, but what they actually sound like is a singular entity, driving purposefully toward the same goal, led by their sirenic frontwoman Andrea Estella. And “indie pop” or “dream pop”, the two most common genre tags Twin Sister find themselves filed under, are vague to the point of inadequacy when it comes to their job of surmising the music created by this band.
And so, to that point: the music. What does the debut album of Long Island-via-Brooklyn indie-dream-pop five piece Twin Sister actually sound like?
The band have tightened things up further still from previous efforts – where Color Your Life felt like a natural progression out of the ostentatiously lo-fi production of Vampires with Dreaming Kids, In Heaven is unexpectedly – surprisingly, even – glossy and slick, but it’s not a step up that Twin Sister stumble over. While the simple production displayed on the earlier EPs lent a certain charm and warmth to the band’s ethereal sound, the increase in values is a much better fit for the band’s sound – the album is textured and nuanced in ways that may have felt beyond the band on previous releases.Twin Sister have never been about straight-down-the-line pop music, but the first few tracks here especially are so dense and nuanced that there is real reward to be gained from giving them a little time.
Occassionally there is the danger of running out of ideas, but generally something new is thrown into the mix – ‘Spain’, with its thick-laced blues riff backing one of Estella’s strongest vocal performances, sounds like the opening theme song to a lost James Bond film, and is quickly followed by the fast-paced and light-weight ‘Gene Campi’, which could comfortably pass for a Vampire Weekend b-side. Both tracks give a lift to the tail-end of the record after an occassionally baggy mid-section.
It’s the first half that sees Twin Sister at most comfortable, playing to their strengths, and will be most immediately accessible to those familiar with their EPs. As before, they draw heavily on 80s synth-pop and disco, but rarely verge on sounding like a retread of old ground – at their best, Twin Sister sound like one of the freshest bands around, despite unashamedly parading their influences across all ten tracks here. Even at their worst, Twin Sister sound like the best Cocteau Twins tribute act you’ve ever heard.