In the Odyssey, the lotus eaters existed on a small island, stuck in a dreamy stupor. They subsisted off the daze-inducing lotus fruit and spent their days consumed with narcotic pleasure. Vanishing Twin embrace a similar sense of hypnotic fantasy on their fourth album, Afternoon X. Their enveloping soundscapes sprawl out like a labyrinth; singer Cathy Lucas’ voice floats like a petal on a tranquil pond. Vanishing Twin’s previous albums, The Age of Immunology and Ookii Gekkou, drew easy comparisons to Stereolab’s surreal avant-pop and Sun Ra’s jazz futurism. But on Afternoon X, the group—formerly a quintet, now a trio—takes its psychedelic prog pop in an ethereal new direction, pursuing a meandering path between leisurely acoustic dream worlds and denser electronic composites, searching for a quiet moment before the next storm hits.

In line with Stereolab’s referential tendencies, Vanishing Twin blend diverse influences, from French yé-yé pop to kosmische rock, into playful, shape-shifting jams, and Lucas’ nonchalant voice channels an air of art-house nostalgia. But their music doesn’t completely live in the past, pairing lyrics about looming ecological disasters with light-hearted guitar riffs. On previous records, atmospheric analog synths imbued their work with bright, splotchy colors, while Valentina Magaletti’s precise, metronomic drumming provided the music’s sleek pulse. With cryptic, imagistic lyrics, they framed existential questions with breezy charm. Many of those elements remain on Afternoon X, but in service of less accessible music, leaving the hooks of their previous work behind.

Vanishing Twin slow down on Afternoon X, swapping out Magaletti’s snappy drumming for rumbles bubbling to the surface. The otherworldly samples scattered across past records play a more prominent role; field recordings of quotidian sounds—boat motors, bicycle wheels, radio static—flesh out the songs’ textures and rhythms. “You know, there’s all sorts of stuff out there in reality,” Magaletti said in a 2022 Quietus interview. The irregularity of these sounds—a sweet vocal refrain cut off by metallic beeps, or eerie, looping electronics punctuating chilled-out harmonies—reinforces the music’s unsettling qualities. Vanishing Twin make the most of that sense of disorientation; they build up a frame just to tear it down a second later. But there’s great excitement in that instability, as though you were wandering through the noise to find the answers with them. These structural shifts are particularly apparent on “The Down Below,” which unravels in multiple acts. It darts from droning sitars to stinging organs, peppered with jolting beats. The sonic jumble lends a haunting quality to Afternoon X, but its strange disjointness is more thrilling than offputting.

Even in its most obscure moments, Afternoon X embodies a lively sense of exploratory wonder. Drawing from a deep catalog of inspirations, Vanishing Twin have long made music for sharp-eared listeners. But with this album’s unpredictable forms, the trio moves confidently beyond its acuity for cultural synthesis, stepping into stranger, more scintillating territory where unexpected shifts and mercurial sounds are the standard. The beauty of Afternoon X lies in its unusual balance of chaos and calm.

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Vanishing Twin: Afternoon X