When two creative souls collide, the result may be conflict or spectacle. Midnight Sister‘s Juliana Giraffe and Ari Balouzian seem to have avoided the former and landed, slap bang, in the theatrical middle ground of the latter. Drawing their inspiration from the mythology and landscapes of their homelands in the San Fernando Valley, they deliver character, circus, and carnival in their debut album, Saturn Over Sunset.
From the opening musical-box chimes intersected with chaotic jazz of “Canary”, we can guess that this will be an album of shocks and surprises. Throw away the formulas and structures that we’re told to embrace for success to ensue. This music can and will go its own way.
While we might think that “Leave You” will follow more traditional lines, it doesn’t take long to move away from conventional tracks. As percussion moves further to the fore, this is an arrangement that tempts the listener into new ground. Ground prepared for “Blue Cigar”, Bowie-esque and unashamedly lush with a pop thread woven dead centre. By all means listen to the audio, but take the time to absorb the video, too.
Dreamy and captivating, Midnight Sister’s “Showgirl” is no Lola from Copacabana. Fresh and aspirational, this is a girl intent on going places, as is the instrumentation that supports her story. The strings travel into “The Drought”. Folky and engaging, a multi-layered showcase for Giraffe’s vocals that tickles the mood before dropping down into desolation for “The Crow”. We are, it seems, in a less than happy space, but how we got here is hard to know. Which is what all good theatre achieves, isn’t it?
As if to open a second act, “Daddy Long Legs” is a sweet confection of pop, from cute keys to ’60s girl-band harmonies. But there’s an edge – a weird, a not-quite-what-it-seems vibe that emerges to tantalize the listener. Call it cheeky, call it risky; it’s the mark of musicians who make the sound their own, right to the final falling-off into “Neon”. It’s barely an interlude, but with enough reversal to have conspiracy theorists listening for the hidden message.
Continuing the carnival, “Shimmy” brings a dance with dischord. Should we twist and shout or keep a lookout over our shoulders for something in the shadows? “So Young” builds on the spooky theme, “daylight as walk through the cemetery thinking of our favorite graves”. Is this a song of young love or something more sinister altogether?
Instrumentally disturbing, “The View From Gilligan’s Island” offers little respite, except that the musicianship that crafts the track is admirable. Maybe that’s what you get for “hanging around with a “Hitman”? Moving from frame to frame, this track is crying out for a mini-movie to capture the essence of its story from strings to gunshots to super-pop vocals.
Before closing with languid piano ballad “Their Eyes”, Midnight Sister provides a moment of ballet in “Clown”. Seemingly a love song, see the dance for yourself in the accompanying video while being immersed in the music box theatrics.
Released on September 8th by Jagjaguwar, Midnight Sister have produced a debut to be proud of. There’s a lot to take in. It requires several listens to come to grips with the many layers that – peeling back – reveal facets and depths that may not be readily apparent at first hearing. With such an interweaving of complexity, the album asks the question, “What’s next?” Have Balouzian and Giraffe drained the wellspring of their creativity to bring us this wealth of variety, or can there be more where this came from? No doubt there will be a willing audience waiting to find out.
And get your copy of Saturn Over Sunset here.
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