The sound of Long Island rarely manifests in sophisticated music. But on their earliest collections of home-recorded avant-pop, Twin Sister changed that. Having performed together in various bands since their teenage years, a noticeably well-developed chemistry guided Twin Sister’s 2008 EP Vampires with Dreaming Kids and 2010’s Color Your Life, and their suburban roots repeatedly seeped through. Breakout tracks like “Lady Daydream” and “I Want a House” seamlessly cloaked the insularity of Long Island life with loungy bass lines, deep synth flourishes and an authentic urban cool.
Twin Sister’s debut long-player, In Heaven captures the sound of a group coming further into its own; making too much of the album’s myriad reference points would be to underestimate its utter originality. What’s most evident is how Twin Sister takes the influences they cite—oddball disco and pop composers like Arthur Russell and Björk—and applies them conceptually. “Daniel” mostly recalls the band’s previous material, shimmering slowly with singer Andrea Estella’s murky, dream-like vocals and subtle, four-on-the-floor drumming from Bryan Ujueta. But one album highlight, “Stop,” penned and lead by guitarist Eric Cardona, is a far cry from their previous work: a smooth slab of Phil Collins-inspired boy-pop with sky-high synths and a dramatic string section.
Despite the album’s increased maturity, it is still pervaded by a certain level of playfulness; make-believe characters appear on seven tracks on In Heaven, which was recorded throughout the winter at a six-bedroom Hamptons party house, and titled after their former tourmates, Bear In Heaven. “Gene Ciampi” is a Spaghetti Western-style track based on an Asian cowboy movie star, while the retrofuturistic epic “Kimmi in a Rice Field” began as an anime drawing by Estella, who is also a visual artist. “Saturday Sunday” presents a more realistic character, and some of Estella’s most memorable lyrics, as she quotes a smiling but sad bikini-clad girl sick of her dull friends and dumb, loveless weekends.
While that protagonist embodies typical suburban emotion, Heaven‘s disco-oriented single, “Bad Street,” covers a lesser-known Long Island—the Latino life Estella experienced as a child, with her mother’s friends who lived “five families in one house, the carpet made from scraps they duct-taped together to make one big rug.” That house was on a weird street, Estella told me during an interview in August, but she has good memories of hanging with families that had it rough and stayed optimistic. The backstory adds weight to Estella’s verses, as they glide alongside submerged 70s synths and funk-guitars that sound quintessentially New York.
Despite the exquisite intricacies of Heaven‘s production—even more noticeable if compared to early demos of nearly every album track, available at the band’s website—the record’s one pitfall could be what it lacks in intensity after seeing them perform its material live. The recordings feel safer compared to the band’s show, which features more theatric and avant-garde vocal stylings from Estella, as well as more immediately piercing synths. Nonetheless, Twin Sister accomplishes a rare feat in sidestepping the fads to which many of their indie-pop contemporaries cling. It makes In Heaven unquestionably one of 2011’s best.
Photo Shawn Brackbill