As Midwife, Madeline Johnston, (a Denver-based artist who also goes by the moniker Sister Grotto) understands how catharsis in music is more than just half-hearted shifts in instrumentation or volume. On Midwife’s debut, Like Author, Like Daughter, for Cincinnati-based label Whited Sepulchre, Johnston (along with collaborator Tucker Theodore) crafts ambient/shoegaze guitar-led music with gutting conviction, building her compositions in organic fashions and allows the briefest of sentences to burrow into your conscience long after it’s ended. It’s an album full of emotional release but seldom relief.

The downcast mood and reverb permeating the album is sure to draw comparisons to the likes of similar artists, such as Grouper, but Johnston carves her own path effectively and immediately. Opener ‘Song for an Unborn Sun’ finds powerful guitar chords building off of a feedback drone before Johnston makes one of her more tenuous declarations: "I believe I am the son of a father who did run.” Her vocals lock in beautifully with the surges of distortion as she cops to not being herself before reaching the wrenching conclusion: asking "Why can’t you see me?" in the wail of someone spurned but willing to keep trying, despite the chance of further pain. By the next track, ‘Reason’, Johnston has found herself in a car, "wasted in the backseat," breathily desiring an unknown other for some sort of understanding or simple comfort to distract from suffering.

Like Author, Like Daughter would exist as a piece of audio misery and not much else if not for Johnston’s ability to find different shades in a very grayscale album. This can be as simple as turning a phrase in on itself and then back again, like on ‘RTD Pt. 2’, immediate followup to the Mogwai-esque instrumental ‘RTD Pt. 1'. Against contemplative guitar and searing distortion, Johnston declares she is, isn’t and once again, is ready to die. Heard in context, it’s not Johnston being wishy-washy or dramatic, but offering a naked honesty in how tumultuous feelings can be. The album was written in the wake of Johnston’s time as a resident of Denver venue Rhinoceropolis, closed in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire and assorted right-wing efforts against DIY spaces. Anyone who understands the importance of artistic expression understands the vitality of spaces such as Rhinoceropolis and how much of a void their loss can create in a community and in individuals.

While Like Author, Like Daughter effectively circumvents the ‘dramatic’ pejorative, Johnston’s dramatist skills provide additional depth. Though she’s not crafting a rock opera or other sort of concept album, she does know how to guide her songs in ways that make them feel like individual haunting narratives in one huge one. On ‘Name’ she elevates her to mythical proportions, stating that she brings "water to the sea" before dropping herself down to almost subhuman levels asking "What are you doing hanging out with me?" It isn’t until past the midway point that she comes up with one of the most devastating conclusions, theist or not: "Your god hates me." Immediately afterward, brooding guitar licks alternate with distorted rumbles and Johnston sounding like a warped Victoria Legrand on ‘Haunt Me’, as she voices displeasure of being forgotten and unable to do the same to the other person. This is an album that encapsulates the burden of attachment, even when letting go might be the better thing to do. On perhaps the most cathartic track, ‘Way Out’, Johnston ups the volume considerably and expresses her desire for an exit from her predicament(s). "Feel like there’s someone behind me all the time," she sings against further surges of distorted guitar as the song concludes. Whether or not she’d be comfortable without said feeling existing is difficult to say. That is, until 9-minute closing track, ‘You Don’t Go’, where she delicately and repeatedly asks "What part of me don’t you want?" as storm-like sounds envelop her desperation.

Like Author, Like Daughter is a profoundly sad listening experience, but its profundity outweighs its misery. Johnston is not creating art on a closed circuit. From track-to-track, she plunges into new emotional depths looking for answers to questions that she and countless others seek but will likely never find. It’s a courageous work, understandable by anyone who’s ever longed to permanently exorcise their demons while secretly wanting to keep at least a trace of them.