Forgoing the throwback tendencies that tend to hamper a lot of dreampop, the splendid debut from this sprightly Long Island quintet shows little interest in the ethereal beauty of clear antecedents like Cocteau Twins and Lush. This instead is a thrillingly direct collection of robust hooks, underlined by the occasional New Order guitar line; Twin Sister approaches pretty and twee with a refreshing lack of draggy sentiment.
Vocalist Andrea Estella can sound nervous at times, but she’s never chilly or distant, and she brings genuine soul to busy confections like “Stop.” The band proves warmly adaptable behind her, copping a broad range of traditional pop sounds from synthpop to glam to shoegaze with an audacious touch of Fleetwood Mac-era AM, but the performances and production are too playful to feel antiquated. Songcraft is the key – opener “Daniel” renovates baroque as unhinged lust with a whisper-soft, barely-there melody; “Bad Street” humanizes its gloriously grooved dancefloor mayhem with no emotional shortcuts. Mining pop’s past for resonance without surrendering to nostalgia, In Heaven feels dauntingly ageless. If the voice doesn’t get you, the beat will.
Annie Clark gained mass acclaim a few years ago with Actor because her matter-of-factly feminist voice is one desperately needed in the indieverse. She reacts here to the upheaval of success with music awash in the confidence and assurance one wishes had been more in evidence on Feist's Metals. "I've seen America with no clothes on," she announces, and now she intends to take us to task.
Clark's williness to play gleefully with pop music gender roles provides an ideal backdrop to her abstract but unmistakably personal, well-expressed lyrics. The anxieties of the Rohmer-derived opener "Chloe in the Afternoon" get taken apart by the song's intrusively busy arrangement in a surprisingly breathless, achingly pulled-apart contrast, while "Surgeon," based on a line from Marilyn Monroe's diary, indeed feels like being cut open. Her bent textures and arrangements illustrate her mental state like something out of a Murnau film. Repeatedly, she deconstructs traditional innocent girl group sonics, piling up to tricky explosions of bombast bearing little relation to Shadow Morton histrionics, suggesting the logical conclusion of the romantic desperation in those old Phillies or Red Bird 45's is a cracked-open, tragic depression: "Did you ever really care for me?" she demands -- and haunted or not, the blazing honesty in her voice gives her the upper hand.
That's what renders something like the intense slow burn "Champagne Year" something more than aural claustrophobia, and gives the blissful lush pop of the masterful "Cruel" a sense of sexual command. She's too good to be a hipster-centric fixation forever; this is music for adults in the best sense -- and the sooner it escapes the pervasive ironic detachment of the ogling teenage-boy ghetto, the sooner it will find the audience it deserves.