PICK OF THE WEEK: Johnston rows into losing control, darkness on Midwife’s haunting ‘Luminol’

Photo by Alana Wool

I detest making long-term plans because almost 100 percent of the time, things are going to go wrong, nothing will go right, and I’ll be left upset and swearing. That’s just the cost of living, as nothing ever goes according to what you hope, so you’re left to pick up the scraps of your plans and try to regain any semblance of accomplishing your goals.

Madeline Johnston made the ill-advised decision to try to make 2020 a productive one on the road, playing her songs that she culls under the “heaven metal” moniker. I don’t have to tell you how that one went. With tour plans scrapped due to the pandemic, she instead focused on creating a third full-length under her Midwife moniker, the imminently arriving “Luminol.” As expected, the music here doesn’t really register as “feel good,” though her art never has as she has explored loss and inner torment rather thoroughly. This time around, Johnston focuses on incarceration, loss of control, self-harm, and truth seeking, among other topics, and the music always cuts a tributary into your mind. The compositions have added levels of texture that help set it apart from her memorial-based “Forever” album released last year, and the heaviness comes in the emotional and psychological toll paid during these six tracks.  

“God Is A Cop” begins with solemn keys and Johnston’s hushed vocals as she ominously calls, “I can’t kill the evil thought, I can’t turn it off.” Cool keys rumble as guitars beam, bringing heat as she continues to sing those words, with notes ringing out and her left alone in the dark. “Enemy” greets you with guitar buzz and an uneasy haze as Johnston delivers words that might hit some close to home with, “My body wants to kill me, my body is an army, my body is out to get me.” The track feels like a mid-90s college rock dose of numbness as she continues to explore those words, repeating and searching, coming back to slowly wind down the track and lie it in a hypnotic buzz. “2020” has guitars churning, the feeling like you’re ensconced in a dream as Johnston continually calls, “And it feels like heaven is so far away,” the refrain from The Offspring’s hit “Gone Away.” Considering the title and what we’ve all been through, the dreamy calls bore into you, reminding you of how goddamn far we still are from safety.

“Colorado” delivers beats cracking and guitar work that reminds of Mazzy Star’s smooth darkness as Johnston’s voice floats amid the murk as cosmic keys boil in a cauldron. It feels like a psyche daydream that bounces through fog as she cries out, “How much more death can one person take,” before insisting, “No, I’m not OK.” Moody guitars settle in as the melodies lap, and everything echoes into the night. “Promise Ring” has keys melting generously as the vocals settle in, rolling into the ashes. “Love will break your heart forever,” Johnston sings as simple keys create a fault line, and other elements emerge and mix into the DNA, punching and dissolving into noise. “Christina’s World” closes the album as key emerge, and hushed singing touches your nerves gently. “Show me the way,” Johnston continually pleads as the guitars awaken and send jolts, the music simmers in mystical clouds, and everything blends into the horizon.

Johnston’s metal is more sonically delicate but still cuts to the bone, as her minimalist lyrics are like heavily sharpened daggers that knife through your ribcage. “Luminol” is an entrancing listen, making it feel like you’re in the midst of a fog dream, trying desperately to find answers to what ails you. Hopefully 2021 and 2022 can be grounds for Johnston to take her arresting music to the people, overwhelming a hushed room with songs that can crush your soul.  

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Midwife-1544620965823272/

To buy the album, go here: https://nowflensing.com/collections/flenser-releases

For more on the label, go here: https://nowflensing.com/

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