For a buzzed-about band, Twin Sister sure took its own sweet time, at least by today’s standards, in pulling together its first album, In Heaven. In the time that it takes many a blogosphere darling to come and go, the Long Island quintet has been slowly but surely working up to its debut LP, only releasing a few appetite-whetting EPs since forming in 2008. So while it would be easy to lump this up-and-coming band in with NYC’s flavor-of-the-month aesthetes, Twin Sister actually seems to enjoy moving at a slower pace off the beaten path, as suggested by the factoid that In Heaven was conceived last winter in an off-season Hamptons rental. All this long while, Twin Sister has been honing and sharpening its electro-indie aesthetic, building steadily from a precocious but somewhat underdeveloped sound into the intricate instrumentation and subtle embellishments of In Heaven.
Considering how Twin Sister’s m.o. hasn’t exactly been based on instant gratification, it’s all too appropriate, then, that In Heaven takes awhile for its charms to fully reveal themselves. If anything the sneaky, understated charms of the album don’t fully register without you realizing you’re halfway through it, when the spaced-out goth of “Kimmi in a Rice Field” snaps you to attention with some bracingly tuneful feedback. Up to that point, the initial tracks are about inviting you into Twin Sister’s pristine soundscapes, constructed of some dancey indie-pop R&B that’s coated with a steely techno sheen. Opening number “Daniel” sets In Heaven‘s placid moods and deliberate tempo, as sparkly keyboard notes and syncopated drum machine beats create a starry-eyed background for singer Andrea Estella’s hushed falsetto, as it coos lines like, “You’re so far away / It hurts so bad,” with languid yearning.
If anything, the early part of the album seems to be about giving off a vibe that gets the listener comfortable with the sonic palette on In Heaven. On tracks like “Stop” and “Space Babe”, Twin Sister patiently and delicately blends chilled-out subgenres, mixing and matching a dimly lit soul feel that’s reminiscent of trip-hop with the ethereal qualities of dream-pop. With a mellow disco-lite groove that simmers rather than struts, even the single “Bad Street” is less about making a big impact than it is about getting across the right impression, flashing just enough swagger to go along with the icy cold sounds.
“Kimmi in a Rice Field”, though, is the album’s turning point that’s also its launching pad, as it brings in a more melodic dimension that complements group’s more atmospheric elements. The most revelatory track on In Heaven, “Kimmi” builds on a haunting keyboard harmony that’s as melancholy as it is sweet, like a small-scale M83 song crossed with Beach House’s fuzzy nostalgia. Likewise, “Spain” plays up Twin Sister’s art-pop influences with Estella singing like a well-adjusted Kristin Hersh to Broadcast’s retro noise, sounding supernatural and otherworldly at the same time.
As if making the listener earn In Heaven‘s pop payoff, it’s only near the end of the album that Twin Sister serves up its catchiest chestnuts. Whether Twin Sister is playing hard to get on In Heaven or just has a contrarian counterintuitive streak, the wait is worth it for “Gene Chiampi” and the jaunty “Saturday Sunday”, both of which show a more pop-oriented side to Twin Sister that uses its deft touch to shape compact gems. Finding a sweet spot between surf-rock dynamism and spaghetti western overtones, “Gene Chiampi” has more of a clear-cut shape and structure than the hazy, impressionistic tracks. Better yet, the sprightly “Saturday Sunday” shows off even more of a pop shimmy, keeping a cool exterior even if the song is about having some silly fun. Sure, “Saturday Sunday” is a little frivolous and superficial as an ode to weekend hedonism (“I don’t care if I’m tan or I’m fair / Just want to have a better time”), but its irresistible sound, floating on airy, shuffling guitar riffs and twinkling synths, helps you get over whatever reservations you have and just bask in its good vibes.
So maybe there are a few too many lulls on In Heaven to be consistently engaging, as Twin Sister almost seems to take a breather here and there on the debut. In particular, the album ends with whimper, fading out to the uneven, lackluster closer “Eastern Green”. Still, even if In Heaven doesn’t exactly end on its strongest note, Twin Sister proves that good things come to those who wait, which may bode even better for the future.
// Notes from the Road
"A-WA's debut album Habib Galbi made NPR Music's '30 Favorite Albums of 2016 (So Far)' list.READ the article