Midwife: Like Author, Like Daughter
Whited Sepulchre Records

If the name Midwife isn't familiar, Sister Grotto might be. It's the alias Denver-based Madeline Johnston has used to release “transcendental drone-pop” on albums such as 2016's You Don't Have to Be a House to be Haunted and 2014's The Minotaur. For Like Author, Like Daughter, Johnston has donned the Midwife moniker for a nine-song set whose grime-encrusted, vocal-based neo-shoegaze should appeal to fans of Beach House, Grouper, and the like. Issued on the Cincinnati-based vinyl-and-tape label Whited Sepulchre Records, the fifty-minute vinyl release, which arrives accompanied by a split cassette with Planning for Burial, sees Johnston joined by Tucker Theodore, credited with performing, recording, and co-producing the album.

It's tempting to draw a connection between the ruined, abandoned mattress on the album cover to recent events in Johnston's own life, primarily her forced eviction from Denver's DIY venue Rhinoceropolis; in that regard, stripped-down, heart-on-her-sleeve songs about loss, dislocation, and disorientation would seem to naturally follow from such personal upheaval. Drumming and electric piano occasionally surface, but for the most part the arrangements are built from guitars and vocals.

“Song for an Unborn Sun” opens the album in slow-burning mode with Johnston's expressive voice wrapped in a distortion-heavy haze of guitar strums, power chords, and plodding drums, the repeated refrain “Why can't you see me?” empowering the song with desperation, defiance, and anger. Pitched at a less feverish level, “Reason” finds Johnston in ballad mode, this time her vocal supported by a thick swirl of e-bow textures and drones. “RTD Pt. I” changes things up by omitting vocals, opting instead for a delicate seven-minute reverie of guitar atmospheres, after which the serene second part adds her soft voice to its lilting frame. Here and elsewhere, lyrics are sometimes rendered indecipherable when the singing's swathed in fuzz and grime, but the music's impact isn't severely compromised when the move complements its cumulative effect.

This is an album best experienced loud, as turning it up makes it all the easier to surrender to the songs' heartache and share in its affirmative, even at times celebratory spirit. Whatever the hardships Johnston's endured, songs such as “Way Out” and “Liar” reveal Like Author, Like Daughter's tone to be triumphant rather than resigned or mired in despair.

May 2017