Much has happened since we last heard from Twin Sister: The Long Island quintet left Domino Records, survived a serious van accident, and became a Mr. to avoid confusion with an actual sibling duo. These and other changes show up in their second and far superior album, one in which the ensemble as we knew it is almost unrecognizable, particularly in the instrumental department. On Mr. Twin Sister, they augment earlier dream-pop flavors with deep disco, smooth jazz and other genres that better suit Andrea Estella’s muted croon, while setting the group apart from kindred atmospheric acts. Mr. Twin Sister is more of a starting over than a reintroduction: If it didn’t reflect the still relatively young band’s newfound maturity, it might seem like a defining debut album.
Reuniting with Jonathan Low, engineer for the National, the War on Drugs and others, the group has stepped up their studio skills considerably: From the album’s glistening opening to the shimmering funk of its sophisticated groove, opening cut “Sensitive” suggests Avalon-era Roxy Music, the benchmark for sultry slow-jam art-rock. “Is this romantic dreaming?” Estella sighs. She recently appeared in the Veronica Mars movie, and you can hear the theatricality of her delivery. On “Rude Boy,” she confronts an egotistical jerk, but does so with the cool, whispery delivery of Sade.
Those songs also include backing vocals from Felicia Douglass and Becca Kauffman of the similarly inclusive Brooklyn band Ava Luna. For the next few tracks, the group enlists that band’s Carlos Hernandez to fashion some string arrangements that float through rather than upstage Mr. Twin Sister’s own efforts. Featuring a chant quoting the pioneering early-’70s club anthem “You’re the One” by Sly Stone splinter act Little Sister, “In the House of Yes” sashays with elegance and eroticism while the far earthier lyric describes a reclusive bedroom dancer who relies a little too heavily on alcohol to solve her problems: “I know I should break out of these walls I have built around me/ If only I could face up to the world, let the truth surround me.”
That theme of transcending boundaries recurs throughout, but nowhere as powerfully as on “Out of the Dark.” “I am a woman, but inside I’m a man/ And I want to be as gay as I can,” she announces just before the synths surge and syncopate. Like the constantly morphing music, this manifesto serves notice: Mr. Twin Sister can now effectively embrace anyone or anything they please.