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Vanishing Twin
Ookii Gekkou Will Ainsley , October 18th, 2021 08:55

Vanishing Twin embark on a journey to an unknown destination

In an interview with The Quietus in 2018, Vanishing Twin’s Phil MFU said that “Jazz is all about the relationship of sounds moving in space”. This quotation seems fitting when applied to Ookii Gekkou, the London quartet’s new album, as it seems to exist in perpetual motion, forever wobbling between opposites. For instance, in ‘The Organism’ the exotica-tinged arrangement with its fluttering eddies of xylophone is tempered by the domestic, intimate sample of a cat purring. The eerie glockenspiel ostinato on ‘Big Moonlight’ seems to herald the opening of a portal to another world. These instances where a certain element is introduced which completely re-defines the song are peppered over the album. Vanishing Twin use these moments so evocatively that they’re almost filmic: the chanted vocal choruses in ‘Big Moonlight’, ‘In Cucina’, and ‘Wider Than Itself’ are reminiscent of stumbling on a ceremony to some vengeful Pagan god in the woods. You can almost smell the pyre.

The idea of ceremony is key to the sound of this record. The chants of “ookii gekkou” in ‘Big Moonlight’ have a religious tenor to them. A ceremony, like this album, moves from the insular to the expansive. Listening to the record can feel like travelling along a portal to another world, like the topsy-turvy desertscape Homer finds himself in when he eats that spicy chilli in The Simpsons (I’m struck repeatedly by the similarities between that scene’s soundtrack and Ookii Gekkou). In the past, Vanishing Twin have occasionally sounded like they never got over that first hearing of the Wicker Man soundtrack and the albums of Broadcast (though Phil MFU was literally in Broadcast for a spell). This is obviously no bad thing at all. These are rich seams to mine. On the last album, 2019’s Age of Immunology, there’s a sense of comfort with the metronomic rhythms and tranquil instrumentation, whereas Ookii Gekkou is more twisted, finding Cathy Lucas et al in boundless, sprawling form.

There’s a core cast of components in the sonic palette that repeatedly crop up: the swinging jazz drums of Valentina Magaletti (certainly the MVP of Ookii Gekkou); tactile analogue synthesizers; Susumu Mukai’s muted, fathoms-deep Jah Wobble-esque bass; and the use of woodwind instruments, such as oboe and clarinet. The obvious touchpoints like Broadcast and Stereolab (Latetia Sadler even features on guitar on ‘Wider Than Itself’) are joined by Sun Ra, Chilean space-age lounge music legend Esquivel! and Italian kosmische masters Il Gruppo. Vanishing Twin also include elements that knock the loose format off-course, such as the unashamedly Nile Rogers-inspired jingjigajiga guitar line and dubby, Upsetter-style siren textures in ‘Phase One Million’.

There’s a noticeable joy in experimentation, from the cat purr samples to the kettle horn to including a section from Chaucer’s epic poem, The House of Fame. Though the instrumentals can be so exquisitely detailed that any singing sounds like an afterthought, this usually works with Lucas’s voice. Those sing-song melodies that her silvery, slightly husky singing seems purpose-built for. Each instrument – be it voice, drum machine, synthesizer – seems to ebb and flow, taking centre stage before retreating, like the stages of a ritual.

Some of the jazziness leads the album astray. When the abstract sound art of ‘The Organism’ is followed up with the near-instrumental skronk-lite of ‘In Cucina’, Ookii Gekkou starts to feel a little unmoored. It’s here where it becomes clear that Lucas’s voice anchors the songs, even when electronically processed in ‘Light Vessel’ – think Daft Punk backed by Jaki Liebezeit. Elsewhere, the stacked vocal harmonies on ‘Wider Than Itself’ stand among the most beautiful pieces of music Vanishing Twin have ever composed (up there with the angelic, lilting chorus of ‘Wise Children’ from Age of Immunology). Like the cat purrs in ‘The Organism’, they provide a shift of focus from an arrangement that was on the verge of feeling a little limp and meandering. The harmonies are a synapse-scorching high-water mark of the album where everything that came before seems to recede. They’re a perfect palette-cleanser before the last three songs on the album, each more succinct and direct than the songs that came before. ‘Tub Erupt’, has an antsy syncopated rhythm texture similar to the one in Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’, while album closer ‘The Lift’ has a breathless, Mark Mothersbaugh-esque vocal.

Ookii Gekkou shuns some of the switched-on Wicker Man soundtrack vibes that Vanishing Twin are well-known for, and revels in the heady rush of experimentation tempered by moments of clarity and harmony. Though the album very occasionally loses its way, getting mired in space-age jazz stylings, it is undoubtedly a superb album that greatly expands on the classic Vanishing Twin sound and mixes it with a sense of experimentation that only occasionally fumbles. This is an album where you can hear a group discovering things as they go and it’s wonderful.