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"Mirror Mirror"

Sons And Daughters – Mirror Mirror
21 June 2011, 09:00 Written by Simon Tyers

It’s not wholly surprising that Sons And Daughters have shirked back from the sound of their last album This Gift. Following the punch up in a roots bar that was the Love The Cup EP and proper debut The Repulsion Box‘s uneasy claustrophobic stomp, Bernard Butler’s employment led to an attempt to smarten up and ease the tension by way of wall of sound girl group tropes. It didn’t suit a band built on imagined conflict, but Mirror Mirror doesn’t do anything as obvious as switch straight back to attack mode and pretend nothing happened. Scott Paterson’s lacerating guitar sound and his cut-throat duets with, or more often just behind, Adele Bethel are often evident, but this time there’s extra space for everything to slither around in.

Brought to the table anew this time around is the production hand of JD Twitch, half of diverse Glaswegian DJ and remix duo Optimo. That new set of fingerprints, using atmosphere as the oppressor rather than pedal-aided noise, are immediately all over opener ‘Silver Spell’. It’s forty seconds of high pitched white noise whine and footsteps on a marble floor before the vocals arrive, after which the twin vocals issue ominous warnings in nothing like harmony. It’s about as foreboding as can be from such few ingredients and an indication that anything extraneous has been stripped from the mix bar subtle pulses and electronics like outlines of evil in the dark.

While there’s still the odd callback to the days of amplified country licks and Bethel staring down her prey, chiefly on ‘Rose Red’, there’s plenty we haven’t heard from the band before but not in a way that detracts from what they’re good at, namely baring their fangs. The dark, intensifying groove of ‘Orion’ might have been sourced from a post-disco New York club jam. Plenty have tried to impersonate Gang Of Four’s elastic rhythm section and slashing guitar in recent years but ‘Don’t Look Now’ almost does it without trying before using its mid-section as a dark horror setting sketchbook, unidentifiable burbling synth menace and shards of distracting noise recreating the sensation of something wicked creeping around back alleys long after midnight. Just in case things weren’t set up as intimidating enough Bethel chooses to deliver ‘Ink Free’ in little more than a stage whisper before a typewriter quietly hammers in the percussive nails, spooked and constantly threatening to explode while knowing it’s not going to. By its end bursts of white noise are being used where riffs would normally go.

It’s the production that really makes the album, pushing the metronomic drums forwards and holding the electronic elements to the backdrop so they don’t take the lead over the full-on approach the band are capable of producing for themselves. ‘Axed Actress’, a brooding retelling of the famously gruesome and still unsolved LA murder victim story, steadily increases in intensity as the guitar goes from prowling the margins to breaking out in a whirlwind of Bethel and Paterson’s desperate yells. ‘The Model’ makes similarly disturbing and macabre detail from stripping back to thundercracks of guitar, sparse drumbeats and subtly pulsing bass. The way the instruments are isolated and the sinister moments are allowed to make themselves present without being unsubtly pushed above all else makes for something so spooked out it’s almost hypnotic at times. It’s Twitch’s first full-length album production job and hopefully won’t be his last.

In microcosm, Mirror Mirror is a gothic album. Not in the modern hip genre sense of Vangelis synths and yowling actress vocals or as doomy pale men but in the creepiness, the sense that an indefinite evil lurks among the spires and cobwebs. It’s hardly a feelgood romp of a summer ride, but imagined as relocated to the underground sweatbox The Repulsion Box lived within it works perfectly. Bethel has said it’s closest in spirit to Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and while it’s not that sort of dizzying kaleidoscopic brutality that film’s celebration of the possibilities of horror cinematography is close in spirit to what depths can be dredged with a downsized palette and a sound topped and tailed by insistency and indirect threat.


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