Midwife - Luminol Music Album Reviews

Midwife - Luminol Music Album Reviews
With cosmos-filling drones and blazing noise, the third album from Madeline Johnston’s experimental pop project feels ambitious and communal.

Asilhouetted figure stares eyelessly on the cover of Luminol, Madeline Johnston’s third album as Midwife. It’s an old photograph of the artist’s mother in front of a body of water, her unique features erased, so that she becomes a shadow in the landscape, indiscernible from her daughter in the present day. This is the album’s first act of dissolution: the blending of mother and daughter, landscape and body.

Johnston has described her musical output, which includes the somber experimental pop of Midwife and the ambient drone project Sister Grotto, as “heaven metal,” a categorization that taps into her ability to wrench ecstasy from devastation, to make romance out of abject pain, and to transmute specific feelings into an ineffable longing. In 2015, while residing at Denver’s artist- and DIY-led venue Rhinoceropolis, she began channelling these ideas into Midwife, whose most obvious comparison can be found in Liz Harris’ work as Grouper. Now based in New Mexico, where she was raised by her mother, Johnston has enlisted Zachary Cole Smith and Colin Caulfield of DIIV and fellow Flenser signee Dan Barrett of Have a Nice Life for an extra padding of guitar and drums on her third record. The result puts a new focus on the “metal” in “heaven metal.”

Written and recorded during the pandemic, these songs have a new sense of universality, speaking to a year of civil unrest. Luminol is an extension of common themes in Midwife’s music: guilt and an internalized sense of incarceration, a perpetual search for home, a desire to self-obliterate. While the music further explores the magical loneliness at the heart of Johnston’s previous records, it also points outwards toward a wider community of pain. As her collaborators sing and play alongside her, the music feels larger than anything she has made before. This is the sound of Johnston’s world expanding beyond herself.

The compositions on Luminol are precarious balancing acts, perched somewhere between the locating sensation of pain and the dislocation of trauma. Often, their tension is wrought from a sense of fragility. The opening “God Is a Cop” begins with a hushed sense of urgency: tiny taps of piano that feel as though they could fall apart at any moment, like raindrops slowly disentangling the strings of a spiderweb. The gentleness is soon contrasted with dense waves of pressure and blazing guitar noise. It sounds strangely enervated.

This introduction is a moment of restraint before the ferocious outpourings in highlights like “2020” and “Promise Ring,” bolstered with cosmos-filling drones, distorted power chords, and anthemic slowcore riffs that grab you by the throat, letting go just as you start to turn blue. Instead of structuring her songs around hooks, Johnston gives equal weight to each passing moment; every press of the piano or stroke of the guitar seems to experience its own lifetime before decaying into her paroxysm of destruction.

As a songwriter, Johnston favors repetition, with lyrics and riffs that spin over and around themselves like whorls on a mollusk shell, until each movement is made to unwind and dissolve. It’s a motion that mirrors the self-diffusing impulse she describes in her lyrics. “My body is the police,” Johnston sings numbly on “Enemy,” a lyric specific enough for us to imagine her pain but sweeping enough for us to luxuriate in our own. The album is buttressed by this kind of negative affectivity. “Love will only break your heart,” she sings on “Promise Ring.” “Heaven is so far away,” goes a lyric in “2020.”

Despite the hopelessness in her lyrics, Johnston gives her music a kind of Dionysian ecstasy, a release from its unassailable longing. “Show me the way,” she sings with increasing desperation in “Caroline’s World,” the final track, which takes its title and inspiration from American pastoralist Andrew Wyeth’s most famous work: the image of a body, ensnared in pain, gazing toward home. Imagining herself the figure in the painting—“crawling up the hill, towards the house”—Johnston commits a final act of dissolution. She is a spirit without a host, longing to find a way back in, or to dissolve completely.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Midwife - Luminol Music Album Reviews Midwife - Luminol Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, July 26, 2021 Rating: 5


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