It’s easy to imagine the songs of The Twin as stunning in a live setting.
Karen and Ryan Hover’s previous project, Candy Claws, was a treat to witness in the band’s element: they performed ethereal, heady soundscapes while wearing handmade masks that created a unique, otherworldly impression. But their albums felt like a minor letdown when compared to their brilliant live shows; the recorded music just doesn’t grab the listener in the same way. The Hovers moved on last year to Sound of Ceres, wherein they produced Nostalgia for Infinity, an album that took what Candy Claws did exceptionally well and built on it. The album is a warm sonic bath, but the peaks and valleys are far more defined, with sonic touches that actually stand out. Despite also being very good wallpaper music, Infinity leaves an impression more akin to Candy Claws’ as a live act.
Here in 2017, the Hovers have upped the ante and brought in a producer specifically geared towards their aesthetic: Alex Somers, best known as the lesser-known half of Jónsi & Alex, a collaboration between Somers and Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi. In an illustrated guide to the album created by Ryan Hover, he explained the creative process with Somers by saying, “We watched in terror and fascination as he took our original mixes and smote their ruin upon the mountainside, only to completely remake them, replacing various instrumentation, exploding our tiny rhythmbox beats with layer after layer of overdrive, adding myriad hand-automated effects, and rearranging song structures and even the track listing itself.” One has to wonder: what did the original version of this album sound like? How close was it, sonically, to Nostalgia for Infinity? Will the band, perhaps, release the rough demos that those pre-Somers sessions birthed? Somers’ vision for The Twin may sound gorgeous on the surface, but it ultimately just isn’t very interesting.
Somers is a masterful producer, and he’s the perfect fit for the ethereal analog synth washes that Sound of Ceres brings to the table. The Twin has an almost gauzy quality to it, as though it’s caught somewhere in between being an ambient music and a ‘70s psychedelic dream-pop record. The downside of this is there’s a flatness to the effort, and while many of these songs function well when heard alone, the album as a whole suffers from an indifferent sameness that falls into the same trap as Candy Claws’ Hidden Lands: the sonic pleasantness doesn’t contain much substance when you pull it apart.
The most enjoyable, yet frustrating, thing about The Twin is the vocal performances given by Karen Hover. Infinity excelled when her words managed to cut through the seemingly endless synthesizer layers, but here on The Twin, everything feels so dense that her voice is reduced to simply being another sound. Perhaps this is the point of her vocal delivery; it presents the listener with a sonic Rorschach test, much like the Hopelandic singing of Sigur Ros’ ( ), where the listener is allowed to run free with what is being sung. While this is a lovely technique, it strips the album of something that would give it structure, as well as robbing it of something that could help make these songs feel unique.
The Twin isn’t a bad album, and it’s one that feels worth hearing. Just like Candy Claws before them, it’s easy to imagine the songs of The Twin as stunning in a live setting, and perhaps this is just how Sound of Ceres should be consumed: not in headphones, but in a tiny room, with very talented musicians drawing the sonic bath for you.