Artist Spotlight: Mr Twin Sister

Mr Twin Sister rebels against gender norms with its eponymous 2014 album and its continuing work as a band. Jon Stars via Wikimedia Commons

Reverb is a weekly collaborative music review within the Arts section that explores new albums and covers new artists, whether indie or mainstream. Our goal is to explore and examine everything that modern music has to offer and to educate anyone who cares.

Who is Mr Twin Sister? A better question might be, “Who are Mr Twin Sister?” as the formidable indie-pop act is actually a four-man, one-woman quintet. Although it has existed since 2008, the troupe has undergone some changes since its inception. In fact, in early 2014, the group altered its name, adding the “Mr” title and creating a not-so-subtle gender contradiction. Blurring the lines of societal norms isn’t novel; performers have bent gender stereotypes since David Bowie’s rise to popularity, perhaps made most famous by his turn as Ziggy Stardust in “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (1972). Challenging gender norms, however, has become a more popular trend in the past decade. Mr Twin Sister, alternatively, strives to separate itself from similarly profiled groups, as the group’s identity is entirely based on uncertainty. Listeners don’t know what to expect from it next, just as the group is still determining how to characterize itself. Assigning any label to it is difficult, as it is subject to change at a moment’s notice. In late 2014, Mr Twin Sister continued this trend, releasing its second, self-titled studio album. On the album, Andrea Estella, the lead singer and singular female of the group, sings about her struggle with gender-related uncertainties and fears and, eventually, the comfort she finds in her lazy, drunken, reclusive state. Though it debuted in 2014, the album sets up the group for great success in 2015 and beyond, and thus it remains a necessary piece of musical education.

Each of the eight songs on “Mr Twin Sister” takes place in the midst of hazy synthesizers, simple drum patterns and slumbering guitar riffs. Estella fits the setting, basking in the privacy of her own thoughts and emotions and, oftentimes, shining through the fog. She’s full of indolence and full of conviction; listeners believe what she’s saying because she’s conveying it in her calm, un-intimidating way, allowing listeners to venture into her odd and insular world. In some places, such as on “Blush” or “Out of the Dark,” listeners hear her at her most comfortable, singing in a distant manner over a swaying beat. On “Rude Boy,” Estella questions the forwardness of a hopeful suitor and completely dismisses his advances. Elsewhere, Estella treads on the subject of her identity, singing “I’m a woman, but inside I’m a man / and I want to be as gay as I can” on “Out of the Dark.” The production is wonky and weird, but danceable, a testament to the talent of the producers behind the table — for example, one of Mr. Twin Sister’s older songs was sampled on Kendrick Lamar’s “The Recipe” (2012). Mr Twin Sister is in no manner bereft of talent; each beat is crisp and every instrument is flashy. The alternation between slow, lazy guitar riffs and drum and bass fills adds to the uncertainty, often punctuating an empty soundscape with fervor.

“In the House of Yes,” one of the album’s high points, lifts the tempo up a level, and Estella is suddenly without a care in the word, drinking and dancing to escape the present and reach a socially-forbidden sanctity. She says, “Now that I’ve had two or three, I can get a little free,” and later, “Break out of these walls I have built around me.” It’s groovy and it’s sonically limitless. Saxophones come in as a final layer of the wonderful excursion away from reality she’s created. In other places, such as on “Twelve Angels,” her pleasant presence is nowhere to be found; instead, she’s completely lost herself, and Mr Twin Sister’s electronic outfit takes over her voice and demeanor.

The album is inherently upbeat and layered at times, but seemingly empty and deconstructed at others. It is the devolution of Estella’s character (or is it complete self-realization?), however, that makes Mr Twin Sister successful. The band poses questions, yet doesn’t seem to reach any tangible answers. Instead, it reminds listeners of the power of self-acceptance and the preciousness of mental sanctity.