Miwa Gemini Brings Her Darkly Surreal Narratives and Southwestern Gothic Tinged Sounds to the South Slope

by delarue

This blog has called songwriter Miwa Gemini “sort of the missing link between Shonen Knife and Calexico.” The Japan-born, Brooklyn-based singer and multi-instrumentalist is one of the most unique tunesmiths to emerge from this city in the past several years. She populates her songs with quirky characters she calls “muses.” She got her start as a member of well-loved all-female accordion ensemble the Main Squeeze Orchestra. Since New York venues emerged from lockdown hell, she’s returned to playing with a rotating cast of supporting musicians. Her next gig is on April 29 at 4 PM at Freddy’s with a three-piece unit including Shoko Morikawa and taiko drummer/pianist Midori Larsen.

Miwa Gemini’s latest album Will I Fly – streaming at Bandcamp – was one of the innumerable great records that got lost in the ugly early days of the 2020 lockdown and sank without a trace. Gemini can be poignant one moment and ridiculously funny the next, sometimes in the same song. The music is on the brooding side, although there are many lighter moments. It’s a full-band record with rhythm section, layers of guitar, banjo and horns in places.

She opens with the title track. It’s a bristling mix of lickety-split, banjo-driven punkgrass and phantasmagorical circus rock with oompah horns. “I wonder if I fall. will I be free,” Gemini muses. The song may refer to the wirewalker Miss Scarlet, who plays a major role in the album’s sixth song.

Layers of sunny, jangly guitars mingle with the banjo in the slowly swaying, soul-infused second cut, Hattie’s Love Story. Gemini switches to her native language for the aptly titled Japanese Song, a lilting waltz with lingering spaghetti western guitar, accordion and a big, anthemic chorus: “The end is near…it’s just a beginning, it’s just a beginning.”

The banjo takes centerstage again in On the Road, a scrambling, Tom Waits-ish Kerouac homage spiced with oldtimey clarinet. The closest thing here to standard-issue indie rock here is Hard Time, a funny tune about the goofy things couples fight over.

Gemini goes back to a steady, somberly strolling klezmer-tinged atmosphere for Miss Scarlet and Zoe, a surreal tale of a circus elephant who’s in love with a cute trapeze girl. Butterfly, a delicate waltz, continues the narrative, a lingering mashup of moody southwestern gothic rock and Japanese folk.

Marching is Miwa Gemini’s Pink Panther theme, a coyly misterioso strut that brings to mind Brooklyn underground legends Kotorino. She goes back to waltz time for Sleepless Night, a warmly lush, catchy number that could be Rachelle Garniez with a Japanese accent.

The band hit a pulsing, slinky Nancy Sinatra noir groove for Jockey Full of Bourbon: it’s the most evocative and arguably best song on the album. Paris, a wistful, balmy waltz, is just as picturesque, with glockenspiel tinkling uneasily up through the wafting accordion and distant, forlorn muted trumpet. Gemini brings the album full circle with Little Monkey, shifting between shadowy, propulsive border rock and an equally menacing waltz.

Gemini also released a vividly melancholy, elegantly fingrpicked acoustic single, Snow Over Brooklyn, in 2021.