Heteropaternal superfecundation occurs when a woman has sex with more than one man during ovulation. Sperm from each man fertilizes an egg, resulting in twins that have the same mother but different fathers. It happens quite a lot with cats and dogs, though very rarely with humans. This isn’t relevant, I just thought it was interesting.
The interaction between twins goes right back to the womb, as early as 14 weeks into a pregnancy. It’s estimated that around 40% of twins make up their own private language as children, inverting words and inventing their own onomatopoeias and neologisms as they learn and play with language together. This is called ‘cryptophasia’. Some conjoined twins can even feel and taste what the other does. All this to say, twins seem to share a special bond.
Last year, the Baltimore band Beach House put out not one record but two: Depression Cherry in August and Thank Your Lucky Stars in October. The band made it quite clear that they consider them separate works, separate statements: the latter, said Victoria Legrand on Twitter, is ‘not a companion to Depression Cherry or a surprise or B-sides.’
But I can’t help but disagree. It does feel like a companion. For me, the two records are very much twins.
The classic pair of what I would think of as ‘twins’ would be Kid A and Amnesiac. Two separate albums, two separate entities, both in terms of how they’re marketed and sold, and how they hang together as artistic statements – and yet, also, not quite separate, bonded somehow, sharing an unspoken connection that feels sisterly, lateral, parallel, rather than the successional relationship records normally have to each other in a discography. Each stands on its own, but each also illuminates the other in unexpected ways.
Thank Your Lucky Stars is a beautiful album. It’s dusty and warm and full of subtle, emotionally-charged moments. I haven’t crushed so hard on Beach House in years. That ascending melody in the middle of ‘She’s So Lovely’. That drum machine on ‘One Thing’. The little echoing percussive noises in the coda of ‘Rough Song’. C’est magnifique.
But more interesting than this is how it made me suddenly fall hard for Depression Cherry, a record I’d previously been pretty lukewarm on – the new twin made the old twin make sense. The two just illuminate each other somehow. The deep, spreading moods of DC remind me of a bruise, darkening, blooming across a knee, while the songs on TYLS are like plasters and bandages, medicines and ointments, a first aid kit for all the cuts and scrapes (think of the guitars on ‘Beyond Love’) that DC leaves behind. They have a kind of healing, convalescing effect. LeMonjello, a commenter on Stereogum, put it another way: if DC is a breakup, a heartbreak, then TYLS is the trip afterwards to your parents’ house, ‘rummaging through the attic and finding some of your old cassettes, enjoying and rediscovering 80s synth classics while looking over personal artefacts and family heirlooms. Meanwhile that mood you’re trying to escape is still looming, just under the surface.’
What exactly is it that makes these records feel like twins, in a way that, say, Teen Dream and Bloom, though they share a similar sound and even similar cover art, don’t? DC and TYLS were presented, after all, as two entirely separate records. But the songs were also recorded around the same time and I think this is crucial. In the normal album release cycle, an artist writes a bunch of songs, records them, decides which to put on the album, puts it out, tours it, and then starts all over again with the next cycle. The upshot of this space between album releases is that even with a band like Beach House, who don’t switch up their style every album but continue to hone a distinct sonic identity, each album comes from a new place, is made by slightly different people. Though they’ve never wildly reinvented themselves, Beach House in 2016 are not the same band as Beach House in 2006, when Devotion came out.
Double and triple albums don’t break this pattern – they’re simply longer, larger albums, split into two or three acts or chapters. But twin albums do. Twins occur when we get two entirely separate beings growing out of the same womb, when a single cycle, a single set of sessions, produces more than one distinct work. DC and TYLS aren’t identical twins; they’re not conjoined at the hip like the two halves of a double LP. But they do share that special bond that many pairs of real twins speak of. They feel like they evolved in the same womb.
Other examples of twins might include Bright Eyes’s pair of 2005 records, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, and Cass McCombs’s pair of 2011 records, Wit’s End and Humor Risk. The lineage goes back to something like Moby Grape’s Wow/Grape Jam, though they were released and packaged together, so we’re drifting back into double album territory.
Of course, unlike real twins, twin albums don’t have to be ‘born’ at the same time – the release dates can be months or even years apart. (There are some semi-crazy theories regarding OK Computer and In Rainbows, for example). To some extent, these release dates are important – which album we hear first affects how we think of them. Would Amnesiac seem the major record if it had been released first? Would it be heralded as a masterpiece like Kid A is? It’s hard to imagine that being true, but it’s impossible to know. So we have the odd situation where twins aren’t necessarily the same age, but were born out of the same conception. That doesn’t mean they’re simply brothers and sisters, though – that would surely describe all the records in an artist’s discography.
In the last 24 hours, Kendrick Lamar dropped his new project, called simply ‘untitled unmastered’. It was culled from the same sessions as To Pimp a Butterfly, so to some extent would seem to fit the ‘twins’ model. But I’m not sure it does. Perhaps because TPAB was such a sprawling, ambitious record, a real statement, whereas uu has slipped quietly into the world, is only 8 tracks long: even its title is lower case, a kind of non-title. I don’t say this as a slight against it (on first listen it sounds pretty great to me) but simply to illuminate another point: to be twins, two albums must feel roughly equal to each other. A kind of formal equivalence is important. It might be the same number of songs (as in Beach House and Cass McCombs) or similar-feeling titles (I always think of Amnesiac as being what the ‘A’ in Kid A stands for) or a mirroring in cover art. The relationship is symbiotic, lateral.
The number of twins is on the rise. Since 1980, twin births have risen around 76%, possibly because of things like increased use of fertility drugs. As the traditional album release cycle continues to break down, maybe twin albums will be on the rise too.