For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken.
It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.₁
Every once in a while as a music journalist you will encounter a band who steals your heart. On that rarest of occasions you will experience a breed of noise you know from that first live set needs to be BIG. Some music is so impactful that it will make you fall on your ass while walking down the street in stumbling enamored bliss after a show… all without spilling that road soda. Those are the sounds that burrow inside of you and make a home. Because sometimes you just know.
sister,brother is truly something. I have spent a good deal of time with Mark and Alison in the weeks leading up to Moogfest. Both are seasoned musicians who came up through the ranks of serious music scenes. Mark Hanley originally hails from my own native Massachusetts. He cut his teeth as a battle DJ in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Boston. After that, he made his way through numerous music projects as a guitarist. A wayward soul and intensely creatively-minded, Mark landed in Durham four years ago, where he would eventually bump into future bandmate and close friend Alison Martlew.
Alison was born in England, raised in the Bahamas, and came to the U.S. for college at NC State. She has been here ever since. Known by many local scenesters as a former member of The Butchies, Alison has participated in several music projects over the years. Since the age of four, she has been playing music. From classical piano as a child, to guitar during her college days, today Alison has found her home in the bass. And she is exceptional.
Together as sister,brother Mark and Alison are at the height of who they are. Unencumbered, total comfortability, unspoken inside jokes playing out in facial expressions and wild gesticulations, the descriptor “they have chemistry” would be a painfully brutish attempt to explain the electric synergistic dynamic they share. Mark’s creative intensity translates into an extraordinary emotional outpouring of high-pitched almost clown-like ear-shredding vocals. With Alison’s excellent bass-playing and her cool and reserved attitude, sister,brother is a mélange of characters and sounds that draw upon everything they have ever experienced, repurposed and reformed into something completely new.
Have you ever felt punctured soul-deep and liked it?
Some music exists to poke your soul. The musings of sister,brother speak to the part of you that doesn’t go out in public. You know, that little piece you keep for yourself… That’s the part of you that will be tickled by their sounds. That’s the part of you that should be listening.
They are loud. You have to want to use your ears to hear them. Listen. They are trying to tell you something. Expose yourself to their noise and you will know what raw really means.
That is something I have gleaned from my time with sister,brother.
or don’t be anything at all
This band makes me need to write poems. Interacting with and writing about sister,brother has brought out a tremendous affection in me.
I am not a poet.
Nor was meant to be.₂
Still, I find myself scratching words on tiny papers half drunk at a dimly lit bar at 1AM on a Monday night unconcerned with the obligations of tomorrow because my soul has been infiltrated by a noise I can’t stop hearing–I don’t want to stop hearing it. So I can’t stop writing, even when a I hear the echo of a friend shouting, ‘Hemingway, come have a smoke with us!’ I hate it when he calls me that. I’m not a dead white asshole. Not yet.
If you’re reading this, then chances are you either know Mark and Alison too, have heard of sister,brother in some capacity, or are in town for Moogfest and you’re curious.
Good. Be curious. Seek out that sense of wonder in yourself. Find a way to be vulnerable and go see them at The Pinhook for their Thursday evening set.
You know that feeling after really great sex–the exhausted panting bliss of cathartic everything? That’s how you will feel after sister,brother’s live performance. It’s not about the sex. Come on. Don’t be so transactional. Give yourself over to the noise. Let your heart be broken and fall into the crack.
₁ “Pomegranate.” Selected Poems, by D. H. Lawrence, New Directions Books, 1947.
₂ “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Wasteland and Other Poems, by T.S. Eliot, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1934