Vanishing Twin‘s latest finds the trio mostly alternating between groove-based tracks and spacey, more psychedelic pieces. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Cathy Lucas is front and center, but when bassist Susumu Makai and drummer Valentina Magaletti get fully involved, the ensemble really shines. Regardless, Afternoon X is a breezy, intriguing album.
“Melty” is a short track built around a simple, mid-register electronic chirping sound. Mostly, this is a two-note figure, but occasionally it includes a few more pitches. Quiet buzzing and percussive artifacts accompany this sound as background noise. After almost a minute, Lucas’ vocals are in thick three-part harmony. A vibraphone also appears, giving the vocals a melodic counterpoint. This lasts for another minute before the song fades quietly away. “Melty” is a good primer for Afternoon X‘s psychedelic material. It’s exciting but maybe not entirely ear-grabbing.
This is not the case with “Afternoon X”, which starts with a heavy drumbeat, high-pitched bass guitar, and chiming keyboard chords. The song immediately establishes its groove and doesn’t let up for its entire length. Lucas’ vocals are clear and unadorned, floating above the groove. She adjusts her delivery here and there for contrast, but the song has no real verse or chorus. A vibraphone solo alters the flow, but even that happens over the central groove. Vanishing Twin keep this up for four straight minutes, but don’t stretch it beyond into jam band territory, leaving “Afternoon X” as a wholly effective song.
Later on, “Marbles” employs a different type of groove. It’s a slower, more loping sound, with buzzing synths and clear-toned bass doubling the main riff. Lucas’ vocals are also notably stretched out, favoring long notes and extended vowel sounds. A higher-pitched synth accompanies the vocals, providing a melodic bed over the bumping rhythm section. Lucas and the drums drop out after three minutes, and the song slowly decays around the bass and low synth. Eventually, the drums return with a deconstructed version of the main beat, but the bass and acoustic guitar are now improvising. Vanishing Twin realize just how far they can push one basic beat before changing it up, and the back half of the six-minute-long “Marbles” illustrates this nicely.
“The Down Below”, at over eight minutes, is Afternoon X‘s longest song, and to justify that length, it bounces through several distinct musical ideas. It starts as sort of a 1960s-inspired Latin track, with acoustic guitars and skittering drums. Lucas gives a sultry vocal performance. Dissonant sounds, though, keep interrupting the song, making it feel unsettled. Eventually, everything stops, and Lucas stage-whispers, “Revelation! Revelation! It’s all a revelation!” The percussion style shifts and then returns to the opening beat, but everything else is different. Eventually, the song wraps up in a completely different place, with sawing violin, bouncing vibraphone, timpani drum accents, and Lucas singing in close harmony, “America! America!”
“Sound collage” is also a good description of the more psychedelic music on Afternoon X. “Brain Weather” features buzzing static, clicking claves, some wordless “Da da da’s” from Lucas, and occasional simple piano chords. Lucas also sings words very quickly, very high, and all on the same pitch, making it difficult to decipher. “Lotus Eater” returns to a bit of a 1960s pop feel, with a slow bass line, constant fluttering harp strums, and Lucas in low, sultry mode. It never feels particularly focused, though. It drifts along on its simple bassline and percussion accents, creating a hazy, sleepy mood. Both of these tracks are pretty good at establishing a mood but less effective as standalone songs.
Better is “Lazy Garden”, which is just as hazy-sounding as “Lotus Eater”, but with a point. Lucas sings about lolling about in her lazy garden, with lines like, “I’ll be smelling flowers / And getting high” and “Reading half books / With half my clothes off.” Ambient sounds and percussion float through the background while Makai placidly bumps along with a slowly walking bass line. When Makai stops, the song drifts into ambiance for a little over a minute before the bass and Lucas’ vocals return to bring the song home gradually.
Closer “Subito” is slow-moving with a lot of ambience. By way of contrast, though, this one is sparsely arranged, with sounds that give the impression of being in an East Asian temple. Lucas holds onto a simple refrain, “What are we waiting / What are we waiting for,” and repeats it many times. It’s a quiet, contemplative finish to the album.
Afternoon X has some great songs, but not everything in this wide-ranging collection quite worked. There are enough interesting ideas to keep the record from becoming a slog. Even the tracks that aren’t mesmerizing at least have some worthwhile elements to focus on. However, listeners who are more attuned to psychedelic and ambient music may get more out of those pieces. The tracks with a full groove are fabulous. As a complete record, it makes for a worthwhile musical journey through a wealth of spacey and groove-based sounds.