In Heaven open with a solitary space-age vibraphone. It’s the kind of familiar yet otherworldly sound you might have heard introducing a news broadcast about an Apollo mission—the musical equivalent of UFO bed sheets (indeed, one of the tracks here is titled “Space Babe”). Were there any question about whether the Long Island quintet Twin Sister planned on abandoning the dream-pop sounds of their earlier EPs? The vibraphone answers: heck no. In fact, In Heaven is softer and dreamier than even the spaciest moments on Color Your Life. Coupled with an accessibility of songcraft that makes Tango in the Night sound downright experimental, this gauze-on-the-camera-lens approach to pop music helps the band’s debut LP go down easier than liquid cotton candy.
Let’s get this out of the way: if you were a fan of the rawer guitar work on “The Other Side of Your Face” or “Milk & Honey,” you might be initially underwhelmed by the electric pianos and moony atmospherics offered here. From the Phil Spector-indebted strings on “Stop” to the swirling FX of “Space Babe” and the marriage of 8-bit arpeggios and towering, M83-esque teenage melodrama of “Kimmi in a Ricefield,” the band has softened their sound — even Andrea Estella has prettied up her signature husky vocal, trading her gravelly “arf! arf!”-ing from “All Around and Away We Go” for self-harmonizing or even background duties. It’s rather telling that the second track here, “Stop,” is sung primarily by guitarist Eric Cardona; his vocal presence is unexpected but welcome, introducing a male-female singing dynamic that once again calls to mind Fleetwood Mac. And like that classic pop-rock band, Twin Sister seem intent on being a disarmingly easy listen even as they’re changing things up.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. The band has only strengthened their propensity for catchy, melodic pop hooks, and they come one after the other like a best-of Lite-FM programming block. Each of the ten songs here — together running for about a half hour — comes and goes like the pleasantest of autumn breezes, well-written enough to be memorable and nimble enough to constantly surprise. The undisputed champ is “Gene Ciampi,” a two-minute tour de force of sawtooth accents, campy spy-movie guitars, and sing-along-ready “huh huh!”s that comes the closest to matching the indelible crowd-pleasing ebullience of the still-marvelous “All Around and Away We Go.” It’s the best song on the album but not necessarily the catchiest; in fact, all these songs are catchy. “Gene Ciampi” is simply the most fun.
If Twin Sister were worse at making friendly pop music, In Heaven might feel too light to appreciate. Fortunately, they are proving themselves to be master pop artisans; in a fairer world, bopping numbers like “Gene Ciampi” and “Stop” would rule the radio. Instead, we’ll have to make do with a brief album’s worth of polished pop gems — hardly a punishment, to be sure. Closing track “Eastern Green” brings back the male-female vocal duet, but it feels less like a final song and more like an inviting welcome mat. “Welcome to pop heaven,” it seems to say. “Here are your roller skates; enjoy your stay.” And I will.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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