opinion by MICHAEL WOJTAS
When established musicians decide on a sudden name change, the reasons behind the choice are typically banal, frivolous or necessitated by legal concerns. Yet in the case of Twin Sister, now sporting a “Mr” in front of their old moniker, it’s extremely tempting to read a wealth of subtext into the name change. Their self-titled sophomore record is a full-on investigation into the permeability of both genre and gender.
The sound is often danceable and dense with synths, mutating from paisley-tinted funk to deep house and undiluted pop, sometimes in the span of single tracks. It both recalls and defies the lessons learned on 2011’s In Heaven. Throughout the record, you can catch glimmers of certain Björk phases and the work of the Knife in Mr Twin Sister’s constantly shifting surfaces, as well as shades of Prince, an artist who’s famously shuffled aliases over the decades (though lines as ballsy as “I am a woman/But inside I am a man/And I want to be as gay as I can” would surely raise the eyebrow of the Purple One in his current incarnation). There’s a sense that the band is inquisitively exploring the far reaches of the album’s fluid spaces right alongside the listener, and this feeling is strengthened by unusually revealing lyrics that speak to a growth that’s both personal and artistic. Stunner “Blush,” penned by keyboardist Dev Gupta, finds the commonality between trip-hop expanse and center-of-the-dial ‘80s balladry, and features frontwoman Andrea Estella cooing, “Is there even a real me?/Or am I just a series of nights?” The theme of identity deconstruction and renewal flows throughout the album. The much seedier after hours disco of “Out of the Dark,” hinges on a similar question: “How much longer do I get to be/This version of me?”
Dizzying as the record’s continual flux can be, the album actually does follow a noticeable narrative arc, especially as the final tracks settle into serene clarity. Borrowing some sleight-of-hand from Silent Shout, “Twelve Angels” features vocals that are multi-tracked and pitch-shifted to the point of blurring any male/female distinctions. “I’ve fallen for an illusion/Instinctive cry for change/I’ll promise myself no more confusion/No more thoughts to derange,” sings Estella with a cold, mechanized focus. The track bleeds into contemplative instrumental “Medford,” a purifying passage indebted to the second side of David Bowie’s Low, which sets up the liquid pop finale of “Crime Scene.” The song is sparser, less troubled and more meditative than all that’s come before it, and looks forward as the band’s identity coalesces into yet another new form.
It’s entirely fitting that Mr Twin Sister would look to such artists who, after being catalogued as gender-bending glam rockers, later went on to usher in placid art rock visions that exist beyond era, narrow stylistic trappings or standard signifiers of masculinity and femininity. Favorite records tend to draw us back in again and again because they offer a specific, familiar feeling, yet it remains difficult to rate, categorize or even define an album as restlessly mutable as Mr Twin Sister. But this year probably has seen no clearer example of an LP as document of a band’s real-time evolution.