You’re free to listen to Mr Twin Sister’s self-titled, not-quite debut whenever, wherever and however you damn
please. But at the risk of assuming authorial intent, the Long Island band would prefer you wait at least until the golden hour before getting started, as no one here is liable to be awake before then. Mr Twin Sister is an exclusively nocturnal being, though it’s not picky about time and place; it seeks quiet nights on the town, wild nights in, twilight, starlight, dusk, dawn, living after midnight, working for the weekend. You can imagine it soundtracking runways, clubs, and kitchen-drinking sessions alike, as Andrea Estella is surrounded by the crisp, luminescent glow of disco balls, streelamps, fluorescents, and anything but natural sunlight. For 37 minutes, Mr Twin Sister pay tribute to the way night allows people to discover who they are and who they want to be.
Transformation and self-discovery would be primary concerns for this band: though the former Twin Sister maintained the same personnel, the context around them has changed to the point where “Twin Sister” is a closed chapter. They’re one of the last remnants of a time when people still used the word “buzz band” to describe up-and-comers, often applied to playful, savvy, photogenic acts that served as a bridge between chillwave’s deconstruction of guitar-based music and the refurbishing of indie as a pop and R&B-based idiom.
Next to Cults’ “Go Outside” and Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground”, Twin Sister’s wonderful 2010 single “All Around and Away We Go” was the definitive song of the time, and they were expected to follow suit toward the verge of modest stardom. When In Heaven dropped on Domino in late 2011, it did a lot of great things, but “coming on strong” wasn’t one of them—it may have been considered too wispy, too twee, and too weird for mass consumption. The past three years have been marked by a terrible, debilitating van accident and minor successes unrelated to In Heaven: early single “Meet the Frownies” was sampled by Kendrick Lamar, while Estella subbed in for Leighton Meester in the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie. Within the first five minutes, Estella admits, “Finding out the actual year/ Made me realize how much happier I was not knowing.”
In any other year, the album art for Mr Twin Sister would be likened to a demo and taken as foreshadowing of a raw, plaintive reintroduction, a negation of what came before. In 2014, though, it looks a hell of a lot like the Yeezus cover, and while Mr Twin Sister is pretty much the exact opposite of that record’s harsh and uncompromising sound, it is similarly fashion-forward, an amplification of what preceded it and proof that “DIY” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “lo-fi.” Opener “Sensitive” takes two minutes to fade in from a gorgeous blur of whirled synths and chiming ambient sounds, and once its supple, seductive beat drops, Mr Twin Sister blind you with their newfound taste for aggressive opulence. Throughout, Mr Twin Sister is every kind of luxury—it’s more pillowy and firm than the spindly, spiky dance-pop of their past, crystalline on the outside and glittery on the inside, a snowglobe of a Times Square celebration.
Mr Twin Sister sounds flawless, and the fact that they co-produced the album and put it out on their own label aligns with a lyrical streak of independence that runs throughout. A withering dismissal of aggressive men set to assured, lolling pop-funk, “Rude Boy” inverts the dynamic of the Rihanna song of the same name, addressed most directly to narcissists and pickup artists using any public space as a sexually-charged proving grounds. But considering the band’s retreat from indie rock’s buzz-making machinery, the more general barbs (“What makes you so certain that I wanna be forced to notice you?”) could be aimed at any kind of attention seeker or dude trying to blow smoke up your ass. Estella curtly sings, “I’ve got all the drinks that I can handle,” a statement that takes on a more sinister connotation during “In the House of Yes”. The title is a bait and switch—it’s uplifting, up-tempo and communal dance music, and the narrative takes place entirely within Estella’s head. It might be a reciprocation of their loan to Kendrick, fusing the uneasy cautionary tale of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”’s glorification of “me time.” Dancing alone in her room, Solo cup in hand, Estella jokes, “Now that I’ve had two or three/ I can get a little free,” and that taste of freedom leads to four, six, and eventually, a quick spiral to the floor. The perfect night out would actually take away everything involved with “going out,” and “In the House of Yes” is an escape from the world and its surrounding problems.
In spite of the disparate situations presented, both “Rude Boy” and “In the House of Yes” are unified by a desire to have some time to one’s self, to figure out what you really want out of life. “Out of the Dark” and “Twelve Angels” follow suit in a more confrontational and direct manner and underline the intent of Mr Twin Sister’s androgynous rename. Amidst the thick, liquid groove of the former, Estella observes and admires women who can naturally put on lipstick, a skirt, and a smile, but its chorus calls into question what “the dark” actually is, and whether the song is meant as a means of shedding more than social anxiety: “I am a woman/ But inside I’m a man/ And I want to be as gay as I can.”
This idea is presented even more literally on “Twelve Angels”, where Estella takes on the role of a bar-hopping woman in drag. Unfortunately, the band actually plays things too straight, utilizing the most common forms of electro dehumanization—that is, pitch-shifted and doubled vocals getting tossed down into a metallic airlock. In terms of topic, tone, execution, you name it, it’s perfectionist Silent Shout homage. But the derivation makes it a strange fit into such an otherwise idiosyncratic record; immediately after, the instrumental “Medford” serves as a bridge to “Crime Scene”, an acoustic sunrise where the record comes to an abrupt, but satisfying closure.
But Mr Twin Sister doesn’t play out as a narrative arc as much as it does like a lifelike, disconnected series of situations. It isn’t a record about being young and love, just one about being romantic in all senses of the word. Its intentions are put most bluntly on the emotional and literal centerpiece “Blush”, when Estella sings, “Is there even a real me/ Or am I just a series of nights?” The band evokes the most sentimental idea of city nightlife on a record full of them—a slowdance on a rooftop, overlooking the skyline, an intimate moment interrupted by saying something foolish and trying to define it: “Have you felt like you would always be alone?” With one line, Estella amplifies the underlying worry behind every feeling of isolation, joy, regret, and excitement that’s expressed throughout Mr Twin Sister. But during the duration of “Blush”, the fleeting perfection of the moment makes that a concern for another time; for now, the night is young, and anything is possible.