As far as songs go, few prove as challenging to sing as our national anthem.
It’s a technically demanding tune from first note to last, to be sure, beginning with a low bellow that quickly soars toward star-punching high notes, eventually swelling to a show-stopping crescendo that even the most seasoned performer can have trouble mastering.
Utah-based rockers Neon Trees spent a hot summer night setting fire to Tulsa’s legendary Cain’s Ballroom on June 19. Rounding out the aural palette were Smallpools, a lively L.A. powerhouse, and Nightmare and the Cat, a cadre of black-clad Brit/American alt-rockers. Neon Trees’ latest record, Pop Psychology, was the night’s flux capacitor, transporting all who were willing to a neon-soaked parallel universe.
Ever since “All Around and Away We Go” reminded me of Talking Heads last
summer, I’ve kept my eyes out (and many fingers crossed) for flashes of
Twin Sister’s name across the blogosphere. Much to my delight, it
showed up last summer alongside fellow NYCers’ The Pains of Being Pure
at Heart on a touring bill aimed at the Midwest, with a stop at OU’s
campus (not three minutes’ walk from my house) right smack in the middle
That show was just last Friday. Both bands were on form and very friendly to chat with, despite slightly less than ideal attendance. But I digress. On to “In Heaven,” Twin Sister’s debut LP for Domino Records.
It’s a delightful, gentle indie record with wide ranges in sound, but not mood (set at “wispy”), save for the bizarre standout “Kimmi in a Ricefield,” a cavernous, twisted, sci-fi story that anchors the middle of the record. It’s also confidently sparse – the band does well to occupy all the sonic gaps without completely filling them. It’s a team effort, organized by Gabel D’Amico’ smooth, technical bass play.
Those hoping for a record full of “All Around”-style funk guitars and catchy disco beats are forced to wait until “Bad Street,” the third track, which inspired a bit of dancing at Friday night’s show. But the first two, “Daniel” and “Stop,” both set the album’s alluring tone with lyrics like “Saw you makin’ eyes at me / Hotels are loneliest.” Andrea Estella’s voice remains almost perpetually girlish and evasive, like she relishes playing hard to get.
Sandwiched between a pair of more boring tracks (“Space Babe” and “Luna’s Theme,” which sounds like watered-down Beach House) “Kimmi” seems to simultaneously soar above and dive into a very deep, atmospheric environment, cast by an echoing drum machine and synths that ebb and flow. Wandering about with a boy, the narrator happens upon the sight of her dead sister, and the ghost haunting her. She turns to run through the rice field, which reaches out and consumes her.
“Kimmi” is a trippy moment of ugly action in an otherwise very pretty, lighthearted album full of scenery and emotive lyrics. It stands out. Similar is “Gene Ciampi,” in that it rides a towering spaghetti-Western guitar riff, but like much of the rest of the disc, it’s also characterized by Estella’s cutely sung lyrics about a movie star with “skin of bronze” and a “heart of gold.” It’s the best example of her girlishness on the record.
“In Heaven” is as carefully conceived a debut album you’ll hear for a while. And it’s got just enough catchy stuff with “Bad Street” and “Gene Ciampi” and meaningful stuff in “Kimmi” to beckon you to return to it. It’s not quite shoegazey and it’s not truly pop, either, but some wispy, dreamy genre in between.