Most bands arrive at our doorsteps fully formed. That is to say, lead-in single or not, the first major release from a majority of bands is their debut full length. The material on it is often culled from years worth of early demos, the tracks that got the band noticed in the first place. Most artists live or die based upon how that first record is received. Yet there are a select few that choose to forego releasing a full length right off the bat, instead dipping their toes in the proverbial musical waters by unleashing a smaller EP first. If you’re a band like Voxtrot, you put out two EPs before getting around to a whole album. There was a lesson to be learned from Voxtrot’s example, where they earned loads of hype via by releasing small sets of songs at once, but then fell flat on their faces when it came time to extend that out to something bigger and more traditional (even if the album is a “dying format”). The EP just works much better for some bands. Enter Twin Sister, one of those bands solely defined by the EPs to their name. The first was “Vampires With Dreaming Kids”, unleashed in 2008 right on the verge of the “Twilight” craze. It did earn the band some healthy buzz, but last year’s “Color Your Life” EP served them even better, boosted by the band’s best track to date “All Around and Away We Go”. That last EP also brought them interest from some larger indie labels, and they struck a deal with Domino to release their debut full length “In Heaven”. So does the band come away clean in their transition from EPs to albums? To start, they’re certainly faring better than Voxtrot did.
Technically speaking, Twin Sister were never a lo-fi band, but the audio quality of their EPs was far from perfect. They were most likely working on a shoestring budget both times. With decent financing for “In Heaven”, there’s a notable difference in quality that reflects positively on the band. Such crispness brings out qualities in the music you wouldn’t have caught before, and that’s particularly true when synths are one of your main instruments. Singer Andrea Estella’s vocals get the biggest boost out of it, her high-pitched and lush songbird pipes get pushed to the forefront and take the reins, keeping you invested in every song even when it might not be prudent to do so. The band also learned a thing or two about economy, stepping away from any of the longer 6 and 7 minute space out sessions on the “Color Your Life” EP and instead averaging out around 3-3.5 minutes across the entire album, never making it to the 5 minute mark once. That’s perfectly fine, actually – they use most of the tracks to experiment just a touch while the more manageable track lengths give them greater commercial viability. That they’re able to add a few more quirks to their more traditional bedroom pop sound helps them to stand out just a bit more from their peers, even if not everything they try works. Still, you can hear the influence of a band like Broadcast in the bombastic “Spain”, while “Bad Street” goes almost straight for the 80s electro stylings of Blondie. Sprinkle a little 80s R&B in with the duet “Stop”, a little alternatve universe shoegaze via “Kimmi in a Rice Field” and a touch of Sterolab-ish odd pop courtesy of “Gene Ciampi” and you’ve got a record filled with fascinating curios.
Delightful as it may be to listen to, the one thing that “In Heaven” truly lacks is any sense of consistency. They happily journey from a more spacey dark wave number like opener “Daniel” into the sensuous R&B of “Stop” without blinking an eye or caring how well the two blend together. Truth is, that doesn’t make for a bad combination, nor does much on this record feel markedly out of place, but that’s probably due to the effortless but key vocals from Estella and bandmate Eric Cardona. Also the instruments stay largely the same, often some form of synth-guitar combination with beats that tend to be more programmed than performed. Think of Twin Sister as if they were this really great cover band, running the gamut with a mixture of popular favorites across four decades, every attempt accomplished with the same set of tools. Not everything works out to perfection, but 8 or 9 times out of ten they birth something far more impressive than it has any right to be. What is Twin Sister’s sound then? If you consulted their first two EPs, they were relatively well-defined and cohesive statements pushing a spacey, retro electro-pop aesthetic. “In Heaven” breaks away from that mold save for “Luna’s Theme” and presents a whole lot of other avenues the band might take. Given how well they tackle that spread of ideas, the band is now faced with the challenge of regaining focus on their next effort. Any number of stylistic doors have been opened for them as a result of this record, and which one they’ll choose to step through is anybody’s guess.