Midwife is the new project of Madeline Johnston, who you may know better as Sister Grotto or mariposa. If you’re at all familiar with those projects you’ll have some idea of what to expect, and if you’re not then here’s a hint from last year’s Sister Grotto album You Don’t Have to Be a House to be Haunted, which we described as “like something conjured in a dark and dusty attic at midnight, not a malevolent force straight out of Hollywood but something slippery with sadness.”
Midwife sees Johnston joined by Tucker Theodore, and the pair’s new album, Like Author, Like Daughter takes the foggy melancholic ambience of Sister Grotto and amps it up to new levels. The album was created during Johnston’s last year as a resident at Rhinoceropolis, a DIY space in Denver that was closed as part of a US-wide assault on creative spaces. This led to Johnston being essentially evicted from her home, and so forced to confront a lot of negative feelings and struggle to remain resilient. It’s therefore an album with a rich and complex palate, the whole gamut of emotions swirled together into something that feels like it has many faces and hidden depths. “[The album] internalizes loss, addiction, abandonment,” says label Whited Sepulchre, “and wrings them through distorted power chords, powerful leads, sheets of drone to create building, aching monuments to past-selves and lost relationships into a positivist statement of resilience and self-love.”
As such, Midwife sound like the perfect middle ground between shadowy wide-screen post-rock and Grouper’s fuzzily affecting drone, with a dash of Beach House’s undulating slo-mo pop thrown in too. Theodore’s instrumentation brings density and an abrasive edge, with power chords crackling through sheets of static distortion to create something oddly anthemic and unquestionably moving. Opener ‘Song For an Unborn Sun’ sets the tone, a shadowy but charged pop song that’s somehow glacial too, layers of big distorted guitar and slithering feedback grinding over one another. The song’s most cathartic moment comes near its end, as Johnston’s vocals seem to gather together and puncture the noisy murk.
‘Reason’ is just as humid and foreboding, but at a distance, like watching an approaching thunderhead roll across the sky and rumble and crack in the distance. “RTD pt 1’ is a stark and lonely instrumental, though ‘RTD pt 2’ reintroduces Johnston’s vocals, again smothered in a thick shroud of effects.
The primarily restrained and morose ‘Names’ sees the vocals peak in pure emotion, jagged streaks of triumph or desperation ringing out like a lonely radio broadcast screaming through a calm and moonlit night. Theodore takes over vocal duties on ‘Haunt Me’, with its understatedly turbulent guitar and rainstorm-style bursts of emotive vocals, while ‘Way Out’ sounds almost uplifting, and ‘Liar’ like a pop song filtered through oceanic currents, subject to unseen lunar rhythms. Closing track ‘You Don’t Go’ is stretched over 9 minutes in what feels like a culmination of everything that’s come before, a gossamer juggernaut that floats and drags and peaks and drops, filling your ears and head.
On Like Author, Like Daughter, Midwife have made an album of dualities. It sounds both powerfully elemental and somehow intangible, the unrestrained power of nature versus the invisible waves that surround us, emotionally pure messages coded in digital distortion. This duality goes for the atmosphere too. It’s impossible to pack the album away into an explicit genre or emotion, somehow conveying the whole spectrum, swelling triumph and crushing defeat, bright white hope and oil-black despair. But, ultimately, almost unbelievably, the message is positive. Even during the moments where the music sounds like the apocalypse, a tangible, sonic manifestation of loneliness and despair, Johnston provides a thread to hold on to, a reminder that the human spirit is the one thing that can, and will, endure.
You can get Like Author, Like Daughter now via Whited Sepulchre from the Midwife Bandcamp page.