Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Until recently, Vanishing Twin stood on the shoulders of giants. Although their excellent previous albums (Choose Your Own Adventure, The Age of Immunology, and Ookii Gekkou) are inspired interpretations of lounge music, kosmische, dub, and jazz, they may have too readily provoked comparisons to some usual suspects such as Stereolab, Esquivel!, Sun Ra, Alain Goraguer’s soundtrack for the 1973 film La Planète Sauvage, and so on. But Afternoon X, the trio’s new album, changes that, displaying transformed focus and imagination.
The result is fever dream music, bad trip music, defined less by cartoonish apparitions than by existential dread; the overwhelming sense that we’re all just contours on a 2D plane. This is music to soundtrack your thumbs going weird. Whereas previous albums were built around a loose scaffolding of swinging drums and bass; analog electronic detailing; and Cathy Lucas’s impassive vocals, Afternoon X exchanges this for something more unpredictable. Vanishing Twin’s songwriting now treats everything as malleable. A vocal refrain might be bit-crushed beyond recognition. The grooves are soggier and swampier (reminiscent of Pete Um and Ken Nordine’s Colors album), but liable to short out. Abstract rumbles and booms punctuate much of the record, evoking the molten quality of the sounds made by Italian futurist Luigi Russolo’s membrane-based noise machines.
Vanishing Twin have also harnessed more fundamental musical building blocks like frequency, structure, and instrument allegiance. “Brain Weather” seems to tune into three different songs, like an automaton radio. “The Down Below” (an album highlight) is a cornucopia of strange structural shifts, interesting textural combinations, and addictive chord changes and melodies that drift in and out of the gloom. The purring bass texture in “Lotus Eater” and robot vocal processing in “Marbles” are pitched at frequencies that tickle the inside of your skull. Afternoon X has a wabi-sabi quality; it feels chopped up, crushed, saturated, blown out, and remolded. The weirdness is now foundational. The first line of the first track, “Melty”, (sung with exquisite stacked harmonies) seems to herald what is to follow: “All that is solid melts into air.” The strangeness of this album is part of the roots, the atmosphere, the vessel itself. It’s somehow more immediate. It gets in your teeth.
Vanishing Twin have always attempted to conjure a specific sense of place or mood. But up until now, we’ve been there before, and felt it before, the arid surface of a distant planet or a Space-Age cocktail bar, say, or a sense of cool intrigue or dreamy dissociation. On Afternoon X, though, they have conjured phantasmagorical new spaces. Where does “The Down Below”—with its stop-start structure, washes of sitar, and dust clouds of slack percussion—dwell? What is the emotional tenor of “Marbles”, and those claustrophobically airless beats, chewed-up loops, slightly detuned guitar, and disembodied voices? Afternoon X is the sound of a band now freed to stand alone in an uncanny valley of their own making.