Chords hang broken in the air. Vocals are either excoriatingly painful howls or muttered at a distance. Guitars drift and seesaw. The only percussive element is what sounds like the quiet wheeze of a drum machine dying, and even that’s way in the background. There’s a ton of reverb. Notes sound quiet and yet completely present. At one point in the middle of the album, a repeated refrain of “I’m ready to die” is the only clear and audible lyric for a long stretch of time. This is the lonely sound of the debut album from Madeline Johnston’s Midwife project.
Like Author, Like Daughter envelops the listener in a soundworld of Johnston’s creation. Her voice floats ghostly above the somber tone of the album, creating a claustrophobic headspace through the muffled tones and despair that fills up its runtime. There’s a certain voyeurism at play here as well. Like other albums of its ilk, our auditory pleasure is at the expense of the artist’s graphic portrayal of her own heartbreak. At its best, both “Liar” and “Song For An Unborn Son” are cut from the same type of cloth as songs like Grouper’s “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping.” These benefit the album by momentarily applying its overall mood to concise pop songs, their sense of momentum coming from Johnston’s particular brandishing of a melody, vocal phrase, or strum, as their percussive elements appear to be mostly garnishment.
The album’s lyrics portray an emotional turmoil familiar to anyone who’s been through the fallout of a bad relationship. Johnston drives this home with lyrics like “Your God hates me/ He can’t feel my flesh” (“Name”). In “Liar,” she sings “What is the answer if not love? …Nothing.” Oddly enough, the feeling I’m taking away from Like Author, Like Daughter is that we can never really know each other. We don’t know the pain that others carry inside them day to day as we pass on the sidewalk. How often are we all depressed, angry, or disappointed? We press down on big, bad memories in an attempt to stuff them into a box we never have to open again. Midwife feels like a slicing open, a bloodletting of all these vibes — stark and naked for everyone to see.