USPS dropped the Evelyn Evelyn record I ordered through their website at my door last week. Put together by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley, this debut record is the work of conjoined twin sisters. I’ve been listening to it on repeat since I tore open the box and turned everything over in my hands. It’s officially on sale today! If you haven’t heard the music from this project, check out their myspace. That’s why I knew I wanted this album.
The twins are actually characters the artists are playing for their side-project. While there has been much discussion on Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley’s websites about the existence of the twins, and the ethical aspects of either wearing this persona(s), I don’t intend to enter into that part of the discussion at length here. I do appreciate concept albums and artists intentionally taking on personas to present work from a different perspective. And since I paid for the preorder record and cd, I’m evidently not offended.
I was looking forward to this album since the artists seemed very pleased and proud of the end product. I get excited about work that artists are excited about.
And I think the album is fantastic.
The characters of Evelyn Evelyn have a traumatic and sad back story, and in this record, they present their life story. Not in every detail; not in glory; and interestingly not in complete condemnation.
The story of the twins is presented in both very personal, first person accounts and more distant, third person accounts. Interspersed between the songs are narrated pieces of their story introduced as a conversation between the sisters and told in a journalistic tone. The story elements contextualize the emotional content of the songs. Some might find the interruption distracting, but I appreciate the context.
One of my favorite aspects of the album is the way each song differs and relates to the others. The songs are easy to tell apart from the opening notes because every song roots itself solidly in a distinct era and genre (which they point out in “A Campaign of Shock and Awe” while they’re making posts like this complicit in the exploitation of the twins). The stylistic choice results in an album that walks the listener through highlights of more recent music history.
Beginning with the waltzesk “Evelyn Evelyn”, the album travels through carnival style music, through 20’s vaudeville, and on to 80’s power ballad complete with synthesized instruments and crowd chorus. Each stop brings the best elements of the style and combines it with current stylistic elements.
“Evelyn Evelyn” opens the album with the haunting sound of dying waltz from an ancient music box. Following a conversation between the twins discussing their joint identity and indicating that there is a longing for more separation. This theme of mixed identities struggling to find the fragile balance between combination and difference surfaces throughout the song progression.
More complicated than simple disgust or hatred for the other whose identity is inextricable, the Evelyn Evelyn songs look at the tension of embracing others’ assumptions of one’s identity while asserting individuality. The sisters are obviously close from the way they talk to one another, and yet songs like “You Only Want Me ‘Cause You Want My Sister” illustrate a desire to be acknowledged as separate people. What makes the journey of self and joint discovery complicated is the constant observation the twins live with.
At the end of the Evelyn Evelyn songs, “My Space” points to hopeful resolution of their identity crisis through the agency the twins find in creating their online identity. For the first time in their lives, they are in control of how people see them, and that makes them more willing to interact with other people.
It is this ultimate discovery of self and identity that I love about this album. Through a life story that would put the twins on the fringe of nearly any group, they come through and find a way to reconcile the life people assign them with the life they want.
These characters demonstrate why I love stories. Often the stories easiest to relate to are ones that take life and re-present it. In a way, the outlandishness of Evelyn Evelyn’s story makes the messages in their music clearer. In real life, the question: “How could people do this to these girls?” dominates what people can learn from the music. With Evelyn Evelyn, the questions gets set aside because they aren’t real people, and the power of the character’s decisions becomes clearer.
And I’ve entered into the discussion of the characters. Perhaps talking about the album is to talk about artists taking on characters. Perhaps it’s because art, like life, rarely fits into the assigned compartments.
And maybe that’s part of what Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley were trying to communicate with this project.
And maybe they weren’t.
But I do love the discussion this fantastic album has incited. And I love the music the artists created. If you haven’t listened to them, check out their songs on myspace. Like I said earlier, the album is officially on sale today, so you can download it when you purchase it.