At the beginning of Twyn's new single, "Ravana," something colossal emerges on the horizon — a starship that's about to blast the listener to another world. Synthesized bass gives way to hyperfuturistic arpeggiations that streak like stars at light speed. A stutter-step rhythm kicks in and, just over a minute into the interstellar journey, Jason Matthews' keyboard starts speaking in an alien tongue.
It's a dazzling demonstration that Twyn doesn't need a vocalist to convey lyricism. The two members let their instruments do the talking.
"That's the whole point of the instrumentals for us," Matthews says. "It's just singing through the keyboard. It feels lyrical and it feels like a song — something you can remember... We might be instrumental, but we're songwriters. We're very much about the melody and the sonic textures. We have the hip-hop production mentality, so the sounds are everything. I love epic music. Anything that sounds epic, that's what I go with."
"Ravana," which Matthews calls "our Stranger Things track," is the first half of Twyn's new double-single recorded at the legendary North Miami studio City of Progress and packaged together as ii. The companion single, "Mercury," is more of a hypnotic mind-bender, but, again, Matthews' synth leads carry the melody.
The Miami-based "jazztronica" duo of Matthews and drummer Aaron Glueckauf formed in 2010. Originally known as Etch a Sketch, they adopted the name "Twyn" after being threatened with a copyright infringement lawsuit. For the past several years, they've been impressing local audiences at nightclubs and III Points Music Festival through live sets that rely on looping and fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants improvisation.
"We've been playing together for so long we usually know exactly where the other person wants to go," Matthews says. "I mean, sometimes we don't." But that's part of the fun. The sense that everything could fall apart adds an exciting element to their performances.
"It can get weird because Jason loops stuff with a foot pedal," Glueckauf says. "We don't have a click, so it can get hairy up there. It requires a different level of focus when the loops are brought in. We don't want to have static loops that are gridded out perfectly from our laptop, so we can just check out. We want to be totally engaged."
Though both are trained jazz players who have dabbled in funk and hip-hop, neither is interested in applying their skills in the name of traditionalism. They're always pursuing innovative sound designs and different ways of performing technically complex music.
"Our approach as instrumentalists is to take all these influences, put them in a blender, and have it come out our own way," Glueckauf says. "Especially with Twyn, our format is unique and doesn't rely on the conventional rhythm section with a bass player. It's just us two, so it forces us to think creatively about how to fill in the sound with new elements... Every choice matters so much more when you have fewer people."
Looking toward the future, the duo next month plans to release two more singles to go along with ii and is working on a live album as well as a ten-minute orchestral suite recorded with Miami's Nu Deco Ensemble. Based on Twyn's output to date, it's safe to assume the new work will sound otherworldly.
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Howard Hardee is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, he has a BA in journalism and writes stories about music, outdoor adventures, politics, and the environment for alt-weeklies across the country. He is an aficionado of fine noises and has a theremin in his living room.