Willie Reviews Vanishing Twin’s “The Age of Immunology”

Willie Reviews Vanishing Twin’s “The Age of Immunology”


Throwing off constraints can include throwing off the constraint of throwing off constraints! Vanishing Twin uses the imagery of revolutionary art movements to create one all on their own in The Age of Immunology. Learn how to do the backstroke and how to escape the limits of language, won’t you? RPM’s review:

The musically-minded peers of essay writers, polemicists and lovers of theory do their best work when they make a game of it, and when they “play” in excess. The careful and gratifying logic work that goes into making texts and visual images, perhaps in an insular movement or manifesto-driven group, is harder to pin down in audio. But that’s good, because the route to a thesis is often heavy and tedious. Vanishing Twin’s The Age of Immunology does less work and more play, but keeps the spirit of falling down the critical rabbithole, bouncing between histories and texts, while remaining a truly artful work. It follows and imitates optimistic avant-garde methods of old and still acts a little dumb about itself. What we’re dealing with is a collective whose music sounds like it’s from 1975 (in instrumentation), and 1940 and 1913 (in spirit), but which is really about our ageless age, one without any mythologized movements. Vanishing Twin makes their own bizarre movement and it starts and ends with them. It’s an artistic statement that is parts dada, surrealism, futurism, and anti-capitalist post-punk, but also contains the words and the sentiments of the ruling powers. It’s what you do when the power behind the curtain that artists and agitators had always mocked becomes totally transparent, just as absurd, and no less effective in maintaining the conditions of production.

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We get a number of clues that The Age of Immunology is a metatextual work, eager to engage in conversation about its predecessors and associates in thought. The title of the album borrows the name of a 2002 cross-disciplinary book that posits an uncomfortable connection between scientific and social behavior. The book’s author, A. David Napier, writes, “we survive through the recognition and elimination of non-self” in reference to both public health and our own prejudicial behavior. The metaphor of disease fighting sets off associations about cleaning and its buried meanings. The album’s title, through critical echo, recalls Roland Barthe’s essay about cleaning products literally killing unwanted material and Anne McClintock’s writing about the imagery of the imperial soap boom indicating a powerful kind of racism. These thoughts rocket back and forth across the album and operate to reference the album’s centering in the middle of a discourse.

The biggest theme of this album is presenting its retro-revolutionary style as vulnerable in our time. It speaks to the impossibility of avant-garde art merely being avant-garde art. Its subject matter, in 2019, is not just normality and those in power, but all the movements and notions that came before it. Vanishing Twin has a lot of fun being an avant-garde group while challenging it all the same. Their artist photo looks like a dada performance, and the album cover has strong Man Ray or Claude Cahun vibes. The propulsive “Cryonic Suspension May Save Your Life” evokes the futurists’ love of industry, like steel on steel, or explosions on the city streets. Couple that with the appeal to freeze yourself for the future, and you have a weird sort of utopia come to life. It’s convincing! Of course, then it gets funky, but by that point you’re frozen solid and hurtling in the year 3000. The turbulent “Language is a City (Let Me Out!)” ends the album, and is perhaps the most direct charge against the normal. It certainly works by itself as a language-inspired scream to abandon language.

Vanishing Twin, photo from the band

This hope for artistic and existential freedom shows up frequently, and it starts to sound more like krautrock. The idea of leaving it all behind and getting in a sacred groove with those around you is important. The band is supremely groovy, and the title track sound like one of Can’s soundtracks. “KRK (At Home in Strange Places),” possibly the jazziest of the ten songs, demonstrates the height of the band’s committal to a free kind of setup. It feels important that it is established right away, and it allows the album to later go in other directions. Even a straightforward track like “Magicians’s Success” (a definite Soul Train contender) contains the spirit of the rebel in its absurd concept. There’s nothing like a backing chorus singing, “It’s magic time.”

But it’s not all paying tribute. The most interesting move the album makes is when the band plays as the powers they’re making some statement about. Beyond just exercising their right to make their own music, they depict the lords and capitalists in their high towers as extremely visible, but unassailable. Consider “Backstroke,” which uses the bubbling sounds of analog synths and sounds positively unsettling. The motorik beat flips and is now menacing. The spoken word of the song describes swimming the backstroke, where you cannot see in front of you. They project across a plaza with a bullhorn and instruct “Twist your arms and kick your legs” in a way that is half suggestion, half directive. Of course, we’re not in the time of Mussolini, and this image of a shadowy figure instructing us doesn’t track. At once, the song  insists on the reality of the situation as it once was and shows us how alien it is now.

Vanishing Twin - Magician's Success (Official Video)

In going back in time with Vanishing Twin, we get a nice lookout from which to observe the goings on of provocateurs, then and now. It’s not a manner of learning what to do, but rather celebrating the spirit of it, while recognizing our own, unique situation. Radical art for radical social change is not the idea of this album, and it dances around this concept rather than confronting it, but it is a thrilling reassessment of how freedom-seeking artists deliver their blows. There are joys in the process and sound of this album. Just like every optimistic movement worth its salt, its artistry is what keeps it alive and kicking.

Score: Like a session of automatic writing that produces the US Constitution in full.