Review Summary: Heaven is not so far away.
In murder solving cases, Luminol is a chemical substance used by forensics to highlight traces of blood in the crime scene. In this particular case, the victim is not a living being, but that ill-fated year of 2020, and we all know who or actually, what
, is the perpetrator...
It feels like it’s almost impossible to elude the many ways that 2020 reminded us we have opened the Pandora box. We’ve been contemplating its ever growing void as it swallowed all our plans, our hopes, our vital energy and for some of us, even our dear ones for what it feels, just a year and a half after, like a cruelly permanent state of mind. Madeline Johnston’s mother's timeless look in the cover of Midwife’s latest release reflects this very same figure frozen in time we have all become. Her fragile shadowed image next to a cliff was captured at the time she was the same age as Madeline when she recorded this album. The idea that we all have been stuck in place like statues made of flesh and air for over a year is the trace of blood that runs deep through Midwife’s latest release, a trail of spirit-draining thoughts and raging impotence that has marked our existence for a very long time now.
2020 saw the release of Forever
, Midwife’s sophomore full length and an album tribute to a lost friend that I had the honor to review, and that also was my introduction to the work of the artist from Denver. Her tour plans for the album, unsurprisingly, went to hell as the pandemic showed no sign of subsiding, so Madeline had no option but to adjust and reconsider recording once again. In fact, this album probably would have never existed if it wasn't for 2020.
Midwife's latest release for The Flenser, expands on the sound she has been sculpting from her debut to the point of creating something that is unmistakably hers. You’ll read comparisons with Grouper here and there, but I can assure you this operates on another level. This is clear from the moment that the first piano notes of opener "God is a Cop" gently drop followed by Johnston’s hazy vocals laying down the first verses. There is something I always liked about Midwife, and that is the way she is able to touch the very fabric of your soul with only a few words, usually sang like a dreaming mantra, and always accompanied with the right melody. It’s a constant that repeats itself throughout this album too, especially in tracks like “Promise Ring”, where she proclaims Love will break your heart forever
as the song builds up and unleashes itself with added drums and ecstatic shoegaze riffing.
“Enemy” follows the opening track with a greater army of distorted guitars and celestial vocal harmonies singing to themes of self-harm and resignation towards the fact that our body is our worst enemy. Surely, a side effect of quarantine that becomes universal through Madeline’s personal experience when it transcends to the other side of the speakers through its skeletal body of sound. On a lighter note, I don’t know if 2020 will also be remembered as that year when Madeline jammed "Gone Away" by The Offspring an unhealthy amount of times, but somehow its chorus has made its way to the very core of Luminol
in a way that makes me wish she would cover my whole music collection, filtered through her particular craft, and elevating it to the very heights of her very aptly self-labelled “Heaven Metal”.
Midwife’s latest release also features a good number of collaborators, with members of DIIV and Dan Barrett from Have A Nice Life credited among them, something that has enriched her music even more, as the second half of the album shows with superb cuts like “Colorado”, where pulsating guitar drones breathe faintly while Madeline’s voice battles the static to reach you as if it was an aural mirage, or the voice of a ghost from times past. “Christina’s World”, on the other hand, orchestrates the work of American pastoral painter Andrew Wyeth, guided by the wishful reprise of ”Show me the way”
as the album fades out of existence.
The case for 2020 may never be solved, as its woes and fears still bleed into the current year like lava down a mountain, but if Luminol
fails to provide the answers you seek, at least it will guide you to a state of mind where those answers won’t matter anymore, and in such circumstances, this is all that we could wish for.