Los Angeles duo Midnight Sister are not short on ideas. Their sophomore album Painting the Roses is an eclectic mixture of indie rock and baroque pop, with not-so-subtle nods to psychedelia, jazz, dance, and classical music. Not every experiment pays off, but there’s bound to be something for everyone to enjoy. The record feels remarkably loose; a trait that delights and frustrates in equal measure.
The album thrives on its unexpected moments: the fuzzy guitar solo on “Foxes”, the outrageously groovy bassline on “Sirens”, the cinematic string motif on “My Elevator Song”. Just to name a few. Midnight Sister offer plenty of surprises with instrumentation, so it’s a shame their songwriting can often feel so passive. Painting the Roses is unpredictable, but I take no issue with that. In fact, I end up enjoying the experimental tracks more than the laid-back indie strolls, as pleasant as they may sound.
Although Painting the Roses falls short of greatness, there’s plenty here for listeners to enjoy. The aforementioned “Sirens” is an absolute jam, offering a similar sensation to one of Arcade Fire’s greatest dance anthems “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. Elsewhere, there are hints of glam-rock and power pop in the same vein as The Lemon Twigs, another eclectic American duo. Only, with much less chaos (and a little less excitement). If that sounds like your type of thing, then Painting the Roses comes recommended.
6 out of 10
Painting the Roses is an otherworldly record. More New Orleans than Los Angeles, it’s all jazz and fog and magic, a jumbled make-believe world with an eclectic range of sounds. The cuddly psychedelia of “Foxes” has shades of the Beatles, while the magnificently groovy “Sirens” wouldn’t feel at all out of place on the finest Talking Heads records. Throughout Juliana Giraffe’s vocals mesh seamlessly with the arrangements, sounding almost Nico-esque on gentler tracks like “Wednesday”. With horns, harmonies, and funk aplenty it makes for a lovely thing to listen to.
That so many artists of this caliber come to mind while listening to Midnight Sister (and I could go on) speaks both to their fine chemistry and to the slightly scattered feel of the album overall. Dancing through so many sounds suits the project’s light, playful tone, but it does leave you wondering what their sound is. That glass-eyed non-focus is all that really keeps me from gushing unreservedly about the record, because for long spells it’s an absolute pleasure to sink into. God knows life could have a bit more whimsy like this in it right now.
7 out of 10
Part dramatic dream, part sun-soaked soliloquy, part love letter to mid-century pop rock, Painting the Roses is a wistful, woozy ride.
The LA-based duo has found a distinct ebb and flow in their tracklist. On one end of the spectrum, upbeat disco toe-tappers "Doctor Says" and "Sirens" are lined with bouncy basslines and dazzling horns. At the other end, sedate, sunny, wandering dreams "Satellite" and "Song for the Trees" are full of lovely, warming, lethargy inducing chords that drape themselves over their listeners.
Production and instrumentation capitalise on the strong influences from the ’60s and ’70s, with heady, chorused vocals and shimmering guitars and keys that run rampant across the album. Woodwind, horns, and strings all add a touch of baroque pop, reminding me of the ‘quaint village green’ I hear in Pet Sounds while, in other moments, it adds a cinematic vignette instead. "My Elevator Song" has a beautiful, film noir aesthetic that quivers and prowls for three minutes. "Escalators" opens with an off-kilter beat which melds with its busy string motif to pique the listener’s interest.
Diving headfirst into a fever dream comes with a risk though: it’s rather easy to get lost. Although there are moments of dazzling brilliance and beauty that conjure a smile on each listen, they sit among dreamy passages that drift along, a little too unconcerned. By the latter half of the album, tracks leave me foggy and wanting more.
I’m certainly interested to hear what’s next from Midnight Sister, however. While Painting the Roses loses me towards the end, the more focussed tracks here are crackers. It’s a warm, Californian sunburst that’s emerged out of the January gloom. If that’s your bag you should undoubtedly give it a spin.
7 out of 10