Standing alone and wrapped in a warm blanket on a suspiciously abandoned street corner, while both wondering where everybody went and feeling a gnawing, emotional churn inside—that’s what Luminol, the new album from Midwife, sounds like, and listening through the record proves to be a profoundly moving experience. Luminol appears to deal with an intense version of emotional surreality—it’s unsettled, but gently so, and it’s unsettling, yet poignant.
Midwife is the atmospheric, slowcore project of multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston, and across Luminol—which is available now via The Flenser—Johnston utilizes an invitingly warm palette of sounds. Where other shoegaze-adjacent artists might opt for something closer to a wall of sound, Johnston’s often-trance-like compositions repeatedly prove a bit more restrained. There’s often some heft to these lush songs, but the tones seem carefully placed rather than overly jarring.
With its blustery yet decidedly focused sonic journey, the album evokes feelings including the delicate precariousness of solitude. It’s more like peacefully floating across the sea on a starry night than battling waves that threaten to overwhelm your boat.
Ultimately, the songs seem like glimmering sculptures. There’s a formidable strength underlying these compositions, yet there’s something extra—something subtly whimsical but serious. The slowly heaving rhythms suggest hope in their forward movement, but there’s also a sense of resignation and finding serenity while under stress. “I’ll still be here when you’re done,” Johnston sings on “Promise Ring.”
Luminol sounds like Johnston is focusing upon self-contemplation while struggling through the unrest depicted by the swaying rhythms. Ultimately, the sound remains rich, and the shimmering atmosphere in which she’s immersed her compositions broadens the experience, as though looking out across a field of wildflowers on an overcast day.
As the record builds, there’s a feeling like drifting in and out of wakefulness, without certainty of which is reality and which is a dream—but instead of anxiety, Johnston cultivates a space to be at rest within this tension. The sonic ripples of these meditatively paced songs seem to expand outward towards a horizon where more strain almost certainly awaits but so does a sense of promise.
Wonder can be a freeing thing, and the sound of Luminol pointedly reflects this idea. It’s got that dreamy, gazey sound, amplified by Johnston’s generally distorted, distant-sounding vocals, and the artist supports this lightly chilly fog with elements including moments of briskly formidable riffing. “2020” and “Promise Ring” feature some of those moments, and on “2020” in particular, that riffing delivers an emotional crescendo, reflecting an outpouring of the kind of existential unrest that the title instantly suggests.
What happens when our familiar forms of emotional expression don’t cut it? When the emotions grow into something unwieldy but inescapable? That’s what Luminol appears to explore—it’s marked by simultaneous feelings of listlessness and dedication.
The instrumentals are powerful to the point of seeming to establish the album’s entrancing trajectory before Johnston’s vocals even come in. It’s a remarkably immersive experience—something in which the weight of every note seems poised to provoke an emotional response, with uncertainty purposefully built in. With piercing, emotional tension but a swirling sound, Luminol sounds personal yet communal, united by a sense of quiet understanding. The album’s contemplative atmosphere offers solace.
Purchase this album at this link.