Under the name Orlando, former member of Fanfarlo Cathy Lucas put together a couple of albums on her own Association for the Re-Alignment of Magnetic Dust (or RAM) label. Her last recording under that name – 2015’s Play Time: Music For Video Games, a split album alongside Tomaga – was a heady combination of retro 60’s pop and electronic, sometimes chiptune bleeps designed to soundtrack fictional worlds and imagined expeditions.
Since then, she’s pulled together quite an outfit. Former bandmate Valentina Magaletti (also of Tomaga, Neon Neon), Susumu Mukai (better known as primitive electronic producer Zongamin and sometime member of Floating Points), Phil M.F.U. (Man From Uranus, Broadcast) and film-maker and visual artist Elliott Arndt have all joined her cause. Together, they have produced Choose Your Own Adventure, a record that continues to capture the adventurous essence of Orlando, but under an entirely different moniker: Vanishing Twin.
This new name references the process of foetal resorption, which occurs when a foetus in a multiple pregnancy dies in utero. It happens in about one in every eight multi-foetal pregnancies but, in many cases, the phenomena is not even known to expectant mothers. In a strangely spiritual way, the foetus never completely dies. It’s often partially, sometimes even completely, absorbed by its twin. When they were just a cluster of cells, this is exactly what happened to Lucas’s sibling. As such, Choose Your Own Adventure recounts the mythology surrounding Lucas’s lost twin, following her on various imagined escapades.
It’s safe to say, then, that this is an album with its starting point in some pretty hefty ideas. Lucas herself claims that the album surrounds “big ideas about birth, death, eggs and evolution,” and to an extent that’s true: ‘Eggs’ is built upon constant loops of sound, mirroring the shape of ova. Lucas asks “if you are chosen, what will you be?” querying the randomness of the process. Opener ‘Vanishing Twin Syndrome’ addresses her sibling, with the realisation that – after absorption – she “must share this world with you”.
However, Choose Your Own Adventure isn’t exactly a tightly structured conceptual record. Instead, the major focus is on the effects of osmosis of a totally different nature: the absorption of sounds. A recent mix curated by the band (amusingly titled Cryptic Waffles) took in everything from jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and noise rockers Shit and Shine to bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto and the arkestral innovation of Sun Ra. It’s therefore unsurprising that this is a record that completely defies genre, refusing to be pigeonholed. The mythos of the vanishing twin’s adventures becomes a conceit designed to allow the band to be incredibly playful with their music. If one thing defines this album, it’s the band’s desire to pick and choose sounds like magpies, stitching various influences together.
The album is bookended with some of the more obvious arkestral influences. The aforementioned ‘Vanishing Twin Syndrome’ combines swathes of percussion alongside funk guitars before descending into a cosmic blend of reverberating bleeps in its latter half. Closer ‘It Sends My Heart Into A Spin,’ meanwhile, extensively utilises exotic drum beats. In-between these two points, pretty much any style is fair game. The lilting, guitar-driven ‘Telescope’ is about as close as the album gets to a quintessential pop song, albeit a very 60s one lightly peppered with off-the-wall library sounds. Elliott Arndt’s flute constantly reappears throughout the album, providing the distinctive motif on ‘The Conservation of Life’ and evoking a distinctly British image of the pastoral. By complete contrast, ‘Under The Water’ is something of a pastiche of jazz skits, lightly brushed hi-hats competing against sounds that could have been taken straight from the Radiophonic Workshop.
Considering how widely Vanishing Twin cast the net, and that Lucas’s warm voice is the really the only constant thread, it’s remarkable how well each track flows as a unified whole. The gentle pop of ‘Telescope’ shouldn’t work sitting next to the dramatic drum rolls of ‘Floating Heart,’ and neither should the free-form, 10-minute voyage of ‘Truth Is Boring’ be comfortable alongside the tighter structures of the title track. But they do.
That’s because Vanishing Twin lay their cards on the table before you’ve even pressed play. As its title suggests, Choose Your Own Adventure challenges the listener to explore a realm of sounds and sonic influences few would think about putting together. Should you wish to accept that challenge, it’s a heady voyage across time and space that surprises at every turn.