Paradoxically, there's really only a fine-haired difference between the satanic lullaby that begins Rosemary's Baby and the heart-swelling, joyous monotone of Shelley Duvall's "He Needs Me" from Altman's Popeye. At a glance, they do seem like polar opposites. But some inter-dimensional Hollywood wormhole connects them if you allow your mind to take it there. It is this very slit in the fabric of The Hollywood Magic Spacetime Continuum that the slinky, mysterious duo know as Midnight Sister is able to travel. Somewhere in the back lots of Burbank, they dimension hop across this fantastic mega-cosm. It's where Michael Jackson met E.T. It's how several David Bowies were able to exist seemingly at once. "Canary," the song that begins Midnight Sister's debut album Saturn Over Sunset, is a thread stretched through this Hollywood multiverse. Its languid lullaby verses are swept up into discombobulating instrumental tidal waves - all sonorous, analog bloops and bleeps.
But no sooner do you find your bearings with "Canary" than do the lithe piano and cooed vocals of "Leaving You," a song both punchy and serpentine, deliver you into a nocturnal tableau. We continue into that good, late night with the album's highlight romp "Blue Cigar." Curious smoke curls across your face as some terrifying, glamorous woman whisper-sings into your ear over jumpy keys and squawking, oddly charming horns. You can't quite remember how you ended up here with these questionable characters. But you can't get out of the booth, not now. It's too late for you, I'm afraid.
Midnight Sister - the project of intense creatives Juliana Giraffe and Ari Balouzian - is brought to you by the isolating landscape of the San Fernando Valley - its colors, its diners, its lunatics, its neon lights. Both lifelong residents of this storied valley, Giraffe and Balouzian have only become more inspired by the area's mythology over the years, its two-faced magical wonderland and tragic circus. And Saturn Over Sunset works almost as an album version of Altman's Shortcuts, each song a character study of the valley's odd personae.
"The album culminated into what felt like an interesting movie of dramatized characters that were around us for that period of time," said Giraffe, a filmmaker whose done everything from music video to bizarro art films. "I'd write about people close to me, about friends I'd make living on the streets in Echo Park, about glimpses of people I saw and wish I knew. Everyone comes from somewhere and has a story. That's a big part of the music we're trying to get across. Appreciating all types of characters, however strange and off-putting they can be at times, and perhaps glorifying the crevices in life that seem mundane."
Giraffe, 23, the daughter of an LA disc jockey, was raised almost exclusively on disco and Bowie. Her lyrics and lyrical melodies, informed very much by her film-making background, were composed gazing out from a tiny retail window on Sunset Boulevard. Her Rear Window-like longing allowed her imagination to run wild and cook up the wild narratives that would fill Balouzian's compositions. Balouzian, 27, is classically trained and already a go-to arranger for odd-pop names like Tobias Jesso Jr. and Alex Izenberg. Midnight Sister represents a first for both of them. It's Giraffe's first time writing and performing music. And it's Balouzian's first foray into playing true pop music.
"I always feel like I'm a kind of musician that kind of wishes he was a painter or filmmaker," said Balouzian. "And always want to kind of conjure up some sort of scene in the music I make. So it felt like working on this music and project together we could kind of merge together and create these small scenes of the bigger picture of the ‘film' of the album. And since it costs so much to make a movie, etc. - it felt like we could just conjure these things up in my apartment or wherever on our own shoestring budget that felt like they really took you in a way to another place."
Saturn Over Sunset is a shared musical vision of Hollywood's oddest corners. It is the baroque, eldritch alley you must pass through to fine the speakeasy night of your life. You'll come out bleary-eyed and the sunrise will be pouring all pink and orange through the smog and palm trees.