Psychic Twin: Strange Diary (Polyvinyl Records, 2016)
Psychic Twin is the project of Erin Fein (former Absinthe Blind and Headlights) and drummer Rosana Caban. Strange Diary is a series of songs written by Erin over the course of four years: during her last years in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and then in her new home of New York City. Erin has been forthcoming about the context of writing these songs. They stem from her relationship with her former husband and basically catalog her feelings/experiences between being married, the dissolution of that marriage, and moving to a new place and starting over. The album is open and raw, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful and bright. Yes, there are dark melodies and, sometimes, the lyrics are just honestly brutal, but Erin has a way with music. There’s a clear Cocteau Twins meets electronica vibe here and there are many places where this album just causes you to dance. It’s the juxtaposition of light and dark, sometimes at the very same moments, that make the album brilliant.
Strange Diary begins with a brief electronic intro called “Heart Divided.” It beautifully represents the songs that follow as it has these dark undertones that have bright, shimmering tones floating on top. It’s a musical representation of the core themes in the album. Erin sings “I divide my heart and it tears me apart”. The lyrics are muddled and difficult to understand but I find that apropos of the feel. Her expression is deep in the mud, drowning in emotion. “Strangers” is the first full track on the album and is ultimately danceable. The beat bounces along with bright, melodic keys. However, there is this wonderful layering of the synths as the track builds that are set against the more conflicted lyrics about two people who seem to be attempting to be intimate while struggling to achieve it. “Running in the Dark” brings another theme to the table that appears in places on the album: running, moving. There are constantly ideas or emotive expressions in all the tracks on the disc that most of us can empathize with on some level. “Running in the Dark” feels like those breathless moments when one makes a mistake in a relationship and tries to hide from bringing pain or schism to it.
“Stop in Time” is one of my favorite vocal tracks on the disc. Erin has this tonal quality to her voice that just draws you in and she really goes for that Elizabeth Frazer feel here. The synth tracks and composition have the feeling of all that was good about 80’s electronica but updated and perfectly fresh. “Unlock Yr Heart” continues depicting that headlong inevitable dissolution of a relationship. “I’m gonna make you stay, I’ll make you stay, We can work it out, work it out baby” repeats through the speakers. This leads to “Hopeless”, the track I find to play most effectively with the contrasts between light and dark on this album. The track is driving and bright with shuffling synths playing off the beat. It’s an impressive arrangement as deep synths rumble under Erin’s hauntingly mellifluous voice. She sings “Can’t you see you’re breaking my heart? Absolutely tearing it apart”. Lyrically, this is not a track for the faint of heart.
“Lose Myself” sees Erin on the other side of relational ambiguity. The beat thumps into the speaker while low synths play alongside echoing vocals. It seems that this song is about that moment when one is almost ready to let go, to move, but just not quite. It’s self-reflective and aware. However, “Chase You” clearly points toward the desire to still repair what has been lost. It’s a slow, patient song and the longest on the disc. The drums are sparse and the spaces in the keys allow Erin’s voice to really shine here. The struggle to come to terms with relational disconnect is so potent in this song. The album’s finale, “The Deepest Part”, is a brighter and more hopeful track, leaving the listener with some resolution. Erin sings “Now every time I think that I am alone, I find myself right back home, and now that I can see that things have changed.” While not a complete resolution of feelings, it certainly is hopeful and deals with the idea that emotional breakage is never truly gone but defines us however we might deal with it.
Erin Fein’s project Psychic Twin is a brilliant electronica disc but it’s so much more than that. It’s a mixture of light and dark, pain and self-awareness, melancholy and hope. Some of the best albums come out of painful life experiences and Erin’s songwriting and art here are an example of how the human spirit can cope through music. I highly recommend experiencing Strange Diary for yourself.
Buy Strange Diary here: https://psychictwin.bandcamp.com/
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