Midwife & Vyva Melinkolya, “Orbweaving”
By Arielle Gordon · May 15, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette

The orb-weaving spider lives a tireless existence. Most orb-weavers you’re likely to see in the wild are female; many males never spin a web their entire lives. In her twelve-month lifespan, the nocturnal spider spends the majority of her life casting silken webs against the follies of the wind and the wild, destroying her work and beginning anew each night. These large arachnids don’t normally pose a threat to humans, but their webs—hypnotizing concentric circles connected by wispy, glistening threads—are dense, large, and imposing, designed to capture any small creature that dares enter its habitat.

If you’ve watched a live performance from Midwife, the solo project of New Mexico-based musician Madeline Johnston, you’ll understand what it means to be shrouded in a gauzy haze. Johnston builds her own vocal processors out of old telephone receivers, and at her concert at Brooklyn’s Union Pool last month, the vocal effects were so all-consuming that they began to pick up the sound of cheers and applause from the audience. Soon, the entire crowd became a part of her sound, subsumed by her own dense, large, imposing web of reverb. Across Orbweaving, Midwife’s new collaborative album with Louisville, Kentucky’s Angel Diaz, source material becomes blurred from its echo, a woven tapestry of layered vocals and guitars that glimmer like its namesake’s hypnotic, dew-studded webs.

Johnston and Diaz, who performs as Vyva Melinkolya, originally met online during the isolation of the early pandemic in 2020. Their shared musical influence is obvious. Midwife creates gossamer, self-described “heaven metal” that rests somewhere between the quiet reflections of Dear Nora and towering post-rock of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, while Vyva Melinkolya has worked with musicians like Orchid Tapes founder and bedroom pop prodigy Warren Hildebrand to craft searing shoegaze inspired equally by Low and Lingua Ignota. When they finally met at Johnston’s Las Cruces studio in the summer of 2021, they spent their nights prowling the desert, looking for snakes, lizards, and spiders. Orbweaving, the product of those sessions, sounds like a sweltering, delirious search for meaning in the middle of the night.

Midwife’s 2020 album Luminol underscored unnerving lyrics about internalized violence and irreparable self-harm with reflective, plaintive piano melodies. In her past work as Vyva Melinkolya, Diaz layered guitar tones—a dense, base layer of reverb beneath a lighter melodic lead guitar—that acted as a kind of Greek chorus to her nostalgic opines. On Orbweaving, they combine their approaches: an arpeggiated guitar is the base palette, a soft heartbeat beneath the Hole-inspired opener “Miss America” and a meditative march driving forward the breathless hope of “NMP.” “No more pain,” they sing in unison, eerily determined and yet anesthetized, like true believers in a religious cult.

The search for a higher power is a recurring theme on the album—on “Hounds of Heaven,” they reference English writer Francis Thompson’s epic poem about God’s tireless pursuit of the human soul. And yet, even in submitting to the hope of transcendence, they still search for a personal connection: “If it’s all just the same to you/ Would you take my hand?” Throughout the album, they’re humbled not just by the great beyond, but by their own natural surroundings. On “Plague X,” an unsettling narrative about a life spent hiding underground soon reveals itself to be a description of New Mexican summer: “Whitest sand/ Blackest sky/ Brittle bodies/ Yellow eyes,” Johnston chants. When she sings about a “web of lies,” it recalls the album’s titular invertebrate, weaving its silk under the cover of darkness, praying to make it until the next nightfall. On Orbweaving, Johnston and Diaz spin their own silken networks of guitar delay and reverb, thick with the paralyzing heat of a Southwestern summer.

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