Smile Politely

Swept away into an ocean of bliss

It’s hard for me not to gush, because the high I had Friday night had me raving. Twin Sister and Memoryhouse killed at their early show at the Canopy, nailing their brand of dreamy, hazy shoegaze pop for a midsize, mostly collegiate crowd in plaid button-downs and summer dresses. Local favorites Grandkids opened and brought with them a small but dedicated group of fans, but I’m sad to say work prevented me from catching their set and I still have yet to see them play. I arrived just after Memoryhouse took the stage, knowing little-to-nothing about either of the bands ahead.

Memoryhouse immediately engulfed me in their full, sweeping sound, filling the Canopy with an ocean of echoing, expansive chords. Hazy, slow-motion images coasted by behind them — a girl smiling, bare legs running through a field, sad eyes underwater. The Canopy’s front room was swollen with Memoryhouse’s gorgeous, stirring songs, each rich with an energy and mood all their own.

Next came a psychedelic, swirling tune layered with fuzzy guitars and a skippy beat reminiscent of those wooden sticks we used to beat on in grade school music class. Denise Nourion’s keyboard spent the set masquerading as everything but, fleshing out their music with quirky, unidentifiable organic percussion.

Nourion’s counterpart, guitarist Evan Abeele, paused a few times to apologize for their lack of merch and encourage the crowd to track down their manager if we wanted to buy anything, but instructions as to how to find him were drowned out in an expanse of sound. Pulsing, breathing patterns rose up over a shimmering underlay of keys, and the songs took off of their own accord.

I was utterly swept up in the moment. I thought, this is the kind of music I could spend a day with.  The kind that makes time stretch out, warm and infinite. The kind I can close my eyes and just sink into. With only an EP and a few hard-to-find 7”s for sale, I kept thinking, dear god, will you put out an album already?

Memoryhouse then picked it up with their version of dancy, a tune driven by heavy bass and synthetic handclaps. It built up with a chorus of “oh oh oh”s and powerful, blurred chords before ending with a thunderclap. They finished with a cover of Grizzly Bear’s “Foreground”, a natural fit to showcase the toned-down, pensive side of the band, patiently playing along, naturals with their instruments.

Twin Sister followed, a quintet of young musicians out of Brooklyn. Twin Sister was the pop-driven sibling to Memoryhouse’s lushness, opening with a beachy, dreamy song perfectly suited for Andrea Estella’s smooth vocals. Twin Sister then kicked it up into a pop-laden tune, and I was amazed that the whole crowd hadn’t broken out into dancing. Bouncy, enthusiastic drumbeats bounded across piles of guitar chords and hazy vocals.

Their next song exposed Twin Sister’s more delicate moments, quiet, thoughtful compositions punctuated by joyful, crashing guitars. Throughout the set, Twin Sister proved adept at both moods: the loose, relaxed songs, and the tight, catchy ones.

With regards to Memoryhouse and Twin Sister’s classification as “chillwave” (really, what is that?), Memoryhouse’s Abeele commented that both bands just play pop music. It’s pop music, sure, but it’s pop music so spirited and colorful and unexpected that I hesitate to call it such. It’s rich with the hues of a hundred different moments, effortlessly woven together. It’s powerful in its ease; it’s music that’s perfect to dissolve into.

Twin Sister’s last song led off with a great aggressive drumbeat howling over droning guitars, building with anticipation. The cascading guitars, crashing cymbals and steady drumbeat filled the Canopy, pushing to the point of tension before finally collapsing into sweet release.

Altogether, it was perfect and unexpected. Memoryhouse and Twin Sister make spot-on touring partners. Both are supported by shoegazy, hazy guitars, but while Memoryhouse leans on atmospheric, ambient music, Twin Sister pushes forward into a tighter, more pop-influenced sound. With Twin Sister’s Estella and Memoryhouse’s Nourion both taking the lyrical lead, it was a good night for female vocalists, their voices each melding seamlessly into the music. Both groups showcase exceptional composers with an ear for mood and suspense. It’s been awhile since I’ve walked blindly into a show and come out so impressed, so hungry for more. I’m thrilled that Ontario-based Memoryhouse came to Champaign-Urbana on their first ever US tour, and I hope both bands will return.  If and when they do, you won’t want to miss it.

(Memoryhouse photo by Jeff Jewiss, Twin Sister photo by Jessica Amaya)

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