10/03/11 4:07am

Twin Sister

In Heaven


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

09/14/11 4:06am

Wild Flag
Wild Flag
(Merge Records)

Few rock bands could make much of a lyrical allusion to broken glass. But cue a track from Wild Flag’s debut long-player, the chugging, psych-tinged “Glass Tambourine,” and more interesting imagery is imminent. The group is, after all, comprised of punk luminaries—singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss of the indomitable Sleater-Kinney; singer-guitarist Mary Timony of both Helium and Autoclave; keyboardist Rebecca Cole of Elephant 6 band The Minders—who have been obliterating indie rock’s looming glass ceiling for over two decades.

Sleater-Kinney emerged from a 90s movement of intelligent guitar music: shredding, stereotype-defying women full of potent rage and hope, whose complexity was often erroneously whittled to “angry women in rock.” But this band is not Sleater-Kinney. To singularly situate Wild Flag, though, one might begin with Brownstein’s most recent shining Sleater-Kinney moment: howling through the single, “Entertain,” from their last record, 2005’s The Woods. “You come around looking 1984/You’re such a bore, 1984,” she shrieked. “Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore!” One can only imagine her thoughts on our current musical moment: retrospective and male-dominated. Perhaps it’s why her new band, instead, goes for something 
more timeless.

Wild Flag captures rock’s definitive energies: desire (“Boom”), aggression (“Racehorse”), fury (“Future Crimes”), strength (“Something Came Over Me”), bliss (“Romance”). It’s a record of passion, liberation and friendship that fuses 70s punk and careful hints of New Wave, full of jagged riffs and psychedelic keys, alternating between Brownstein’s fiery howls and Timony’s cool drawl. But Wild Flag‘s reference points are few; there was little feminist music in the 70s, and this is an utterly feminist record.

“Romance” opens Wild Flag with a bouncing ode to sound itself. Weiss’s muscular drums fill between Brownstein’s raspy, heartfelt verses, fuzz-laden fret-climbs, and saccharine group choruses that recall 60s pop—”shake! shimmy, shake!”—as the group sings about finding each other through music. “We love the sound, the sound is what found us,” they sing, “sound is the blood between me and you.” The layered choruses soon turn towards liberation through rock: “We sing to free ourselves from the room.”

A mid-tempo rocker full of wah-wah riffs and la-la-las, “Something Came Over Me” reaches its most resonant line—”I feel faint but never weak”—within thirty seconds. Another highlight, Brownstein’s “Boom,” is a swaggering, garage-like countdown of sharp guitars and trembling vox. Feminists generally loathe rock star worship, but if you love smart, charismatic rock, it’s easy to obsess over Brownstein here. As she moves through Wild Flag‘s first single, “Future Crimes,” it’s the record’s most gripping work—urgent and forward-moving, full of repetitive, angular minor chords and ferocious 4/4 beatkeeping that build to the final line: “If you’re gonna give up on this fight, then I’m gonna call you a liar!”

Despite the album’s clean finish and NPR-rock standing—indeed, amid the recent historicizing of Riot Grrrl, the broadened appeal seems groundbreaking—Wild Flag retains an indelible teenage spirit, stressing rock’s ability to incubate. Maybe grown-up punks will understand the album more than Gen Pitchfork, but there’s a lesson in its steadfast energy that defies time. To draw from Sleater-Kinney’s essential third member: “Culture is what we make it.” Now, as ever, is the time to invent.

Photo John Clark