Midnight Sister: Painting the Roses (Jagjaguwar) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, December 7th, 2023  

Midnight Sister

Painting the Roses


Mar 09, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Although they are best known for their music, the talents of LA duo Midnight Sister lie in film as well. Vocalist Juliana Giraffe also works as filmmaker and visual artist, while producer and multi-instrumentalist Ari Balouzian also composes for film. It is no surprise then how deftly the pair crafts new worlds in their music, drawing their listeners along into a glitzy retro nightlife. Far from the COVID fears of the present, Midnight Sister’s latest record, Painting the Roses, falls back into the past, full of velvet gated VIP areas, lush disco style, and Old Hollywood opulence.

Befitting the vintage setting, Midnight Sister conjures a hazy blend of styles, most especially drawing from ‘70s disco with hints of psychedelia, Laurel Canyon baroque pop, and ramshackle Tin Pan Alley melodies. Though these genre pairings have gotten a lot of play from fellow ‘70s revivalists such as Foxygen, The Lemon Twigs, or Weyes Blood, Midnight Sister puts a distinctive spin on the style, leaning into the dance influences, the pair’s film credentials, and the willowy lilt of Giraffe’s vocals.

The pair’s affection for Old Hollywood especially shows in their swelling string dramatic accompaniments, such as the Muzak-waltz of “Elevator Song” or the effects-laden finale of “Painting the Roses.” This side of the band dives into the lush and the decadent, but the duo also heads out on the town for driving disco odysseys with “Sirens” and “Limousine.” There the hedonistic element takes over as the duo imbues dancefloor-filling instrumentals with bursts of high drama.

However, Giraffe’s airy whispers are the most immediately recognizable facet of the duo, an effect that also proves surprisingly elastic. Whereas the woozy opener “Doctor Says” places Giraffe atop a lush bed of arpeggiated chords and string accents, she performs equally well in the understated pop ballad “Tomorrowland,” or the preening glam rock of “Foxes.” Giraffe shifts between the styles as easily as an experienced actor shifts character, and to much the same effect. She sounds equally at home on disco dance floors as in a trippy Beatles-esque psychedelic haze.

Beneath the glitz and glamour, there’s an offbeat element coloring the tracks, offering some subtle twists on the ‘70s pastiche formula. Even on the more languid chamber pop tracks, past the pastoral presentation lies a fascinating chaos. The tracks rarely feel static. They’re shifting and often mercurial, taking new forms, sometimes even for a split second, or descending into cacophonous swirls of instrumentation as on “Dearly Departed.” Momentary stabs of horns or flourishes of strings, even a blood-curdling scream as on “Sirens,” all add a chaotic undertone to the pair’s extravagant midnight discos. While this can result in some obtuse melodies or overwrought instrumental beats, they lend the project as a whole an alluring intrigue.

The theatrical flair is hard to miss on Painting the Roses. If nothing else, the record sounds lavish, dressing the pair’s art pop in expensive vintage trappings before hitting the town. But even at their most indulgent, these tracks intentionally take roads less travelled and put a cracked spin on their influences, for better or worse. Midnight Sister surpasses imitation of these styles, turning the familiar into the unfamiliar as they invite you into the ever-changing world they’ve crafted. (www.midnightsister.bandcamp.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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