It was 2011 and I was looking at the pitch black darkness of Crookes Road. The blistering wind, howling through the badly insulated window. The old speakers, patched with electrical tape and paperclips, still worked. The song was a weird one, a mantra-like repetition with garbled vocals. It was strangely hypnotic. It was so different to everything she’d done before. I was listening to Psychic Twin, a new venture by Erin Fein, who had been in Headlights and Absinthe Blind. A week before or so, I’d discovered Absinthe Blind after a marathon of Headlights. That night, I was listening to ‘The Deepest Part’.
I eventually contacted Erin and Brett for an interview. It was on that one were they confirmed that Headlights had gone to the big band gig in the sky. They left a good legacy, and Psychic Twin, the fledgling project, was ready to become something else. Something big. It would take some time.
The road was long, hard, and winding. Photos and snippets of new songs, covers (Tears for Fears! The Stranglers!), collaborations (Camp Counsellors!), mesmerising live shows (how good was SXSW 2014 at Cheer Up Charlie’s?), a Daytrotter session, and more snippets of songs and videos. And yet, no album. Sure, there was the lovely white 7″ for Strangers/Dream state, but, all those songs, all those photos, all the line-up changes. Was this ever going to see the light of day?
In 2014, just after the show at Cheer Up Charlie’s, I recorded an interview with Erin Fein that was going to be published somewhere I can’t mention still after all these years. So it goes. What I took from it was a snapshot of how, three years on, the Psychic Twin project was not just a band for Erin Fein, it was a lifeline. It was therapy. It was the way forward. As Trent Reznor once said: the way out is through.
Face your fears. Face your pain. Pierce through it with all your energy. It will hurt like fucking hell, but you’ll be free, and you’ll fly once more. You’ll smile again. The sun will shine as bright as you’ve seen it. You’ll be alright tonight.
Five years. Wow. Has it been so long? Strange Diary is now out. You can buy it from Polyvinyl Records. You can buy it from Pledgemusic and get a few personal gifts from Erin Fein. Like I said, this is no longer an album, it’s a statement. And I’m not going to be the dickhead to hijack a piece of art and re-interpret what Erin Fein is saying, that’s her voice and after a quinquennial, she’s earned the right to say whatever she damn pleases.
So, anecdotes aside, how is Strange Diary? Worth the wait. Absolutely. From the buzzing intro of ‘Heart divided’ to the symbolic ending that is the re-working of ‘The Deepest Part’, this diary is as intimate as they come.
‘Strangers’ is re-recorded for Strange Diaries and seems to have grown into something better than its original form. A recollection of how the perception between people can change, ‘Strangers’ nails it smack in the head: are you sure the person you trust is who you believe that person is? If it’s hard knowing yourself, imagine trying that with another person. ‘Strangers’ sheds its dream pop skin and becomes something else.
Incidentally: anyone saying electronic music can’t pack a punch better check themselves (before they break themselves). This is especially true of ‘Running in the dark’, skulking around your room with sharp teeth. “In the night I think of you / don’t know, don’t know /what I’m supposed to do“, muses Fein while the ashes and cinders still smoulder, far away in the distance. The smokey atmosphere makes everything murky, and we are in this dark, confused and scared. Fear not, Psychic Twin is here, with soothing vocals. “I try, I try to undo what I’ve done” is the best call to stop wallowing and take back your life. It’s never too late to go back and edit that draft, that song, that painting. Everything moves as we do. Forward, never backwards.
Everyone can sympathise with heartbreak, depression and the long road that is trying to get over someone. But this is not about me. This is about Erin Fein‘s trip. Still, these are some of the universal themes tackled perfectly in the album. ‘As the heart unwinds’, that fantastic song from the Daytrotter session, evolved into the fierce ‘Stop in time’. That “c’mon” shoots the song into the stratosphere once the initial build up finishes. It’s not a scream, but it’s fierce; a sort of daily affirmation. I think ‘I want to forget’ became ‘Lose myself’. At least thematically, it’s the same song. Move away, move forward. Erase, rewind and come out clean. Those distant bells, the slightly altered vocals. Remember and forgive, but never forget, as that is really the lesson.
Yeah, ‘Lose Myself’. I remember Erin Fein mentioning that she felt she had a sort of “lost twin” that guided her on tough times and that was part of the origin of the name Psychic Twin. I assume the treated vocals mean that ‘I want to forget’ is part of a series of counselling sessions from Erin‘s twin. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The line is hazy.
The clearer vocals are indicative of Psychic Twin finding its voice. This is another great achievement from Strange Diary: witnessing an artist finding both their stride and voice. In one album! Damn! Vocals play an important part in ‘Chase you’, a gorgeous song that feels as trip hop as they come. This song maximises Erin Fein‘s vocal range, creating with overdubs a choral approach: echoes dissipate into darkness and you’re not quite sure how scared or reassured should you feel. Like a moment of calm after an intense fit of anger, ‘Chase you’ is you hunching down, sitting and catching your breath. Back to the drawing board, with a clearer plan and a better strategy.
I think finishing with the re-worked version of ‘The Deepest Part’ is the perfect symbolism for this five-year trip. Back at square one. Where it all started. Erin‘s vocals are clearer, the beats are harder and the ideas now all make sense. It’s like re-visiting a draft. You spot the mistakes. You know what was “off” with it. And you re-work it.
And as I read this review for the tenth time, trying to edit it down to a manageable read while still trying to do justice to the strenuous path to the glory of Strange Diary, I ask again: who is Erin Fein? Who is her Psychic Twin? Who did I talk to back in SXSW 2014: Erin or the unknown twin? The answer is, well, none of our business. And we don’t need to know. The answers are all there, laid bare, in Strange Diary, an album that displays perfectly that hard work pays off and that art will always heal the soul.
And that’s a truth that answers everything. Don’t you damn forget that.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López.