“We’re twins,” said one half of Say Lou Lou, at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, halfway into the Swedish-Australian pop-rock duo’s first (so they also said) concert in the United States. She had to say it, just to be sure we knew, and it added a wrinkle, because what is ingenious about these engaging sisters is how they take the tradition of the twin act (found in popular entertainment from the tent show to Nashville) and turn it on its two heads. They are, like stage twins from Roman comedy on, not just about identity (is anyone really unique?) and the politics of the individual (are there any?) but of mimesis itself (were they not born, in a sense, already imitating each other?). Say Lou Lou is (are?) very clever about this, layering on a masquerade that splits them in two and puts them together again. Elektra and Miranda, electric blonde and gothic brunette, Swede and Aussie (or vice versa), start as twins, turn into doppelgängers, and end as yin and yang (or vice versa).
They’re jugglers of sameness and difference. The faces are a lot alike, maybe identical; the hair, like noon and midnight. Elektra wears a pattern above and a solid below; her twin the opposite; each a pond in which the other is reflected. Miranda sticks to the microphone, manipulates keys and levers with her hand, holds the occasional instrument in the other. Elektra pulls away from the mike once, twice, or thrice, but still singing, still clear as day if not clearer, which raised an eyebrow or two in the house, but was clearly deliberate: I think she was syncing her sister, becoming her twin’s same singer. Miranda, the bad angel on the shoulder of the pair, challenges and points demandingly at her sister, who takes it and holds her own, and it becomes her. They have good fun with our cultural notions of what is supposed to make blondes and brunettes respectively attractive. It’s smartly subversive that a couple of young women who might have been tempted to get by on looks alone have taken the route of a sustained aural and visual riff on the conventionality of appearances.
They are charismatic performers, physically vibrant and vocally dreamy, with all those pseudo sci-fi gestures that I associate with Scandinavian pop, and musical allusions, too, that seem to drift in from the ‘70s (you can guess to whom I refer). There’s a lot of rave, reverb and revving up. The tenor of their sound is one of emotional validation, the statement that it’s okay to feel and even more okay to express it. It’s an attitude not just assertive, but triumphalist, as pop so often is, that the emotion has been let out rather than held in. Add in the twins theme, and their performance art take on it, with its doublings and mysteries of identity, imitation, and split personalities, and you have something of substance and real import. A browse of their online videos bears that out, and their CD Lucid Dreaming, just released stateside, should as well. The sisters Kilbey (their father is Steve Kilbey of the Church, their mother Karin Jansson of Pink Champagne) perform again tonight at the Mercury Lounge in New York, then move on to L.A., San Francisco, and the U.K.