Somewhere between dance pop and bedroom pop, there’s a magical sweet spot that’s been abundantly mined but only occasionally adequately clinched. In Nacho Cano’s latest full-length, Harmless Fantasies, released under his moniker Twin Cabins, the Toluca-born, LA-based songwriter and producer successfully capitalizes on that happy medium to mesmerizing results.
In a post-Cupid Deluxe world, we’ve seen many acts make their attempts at this sort of R&B-influenced minimalism, and it may seem all too easy to draw comparisons between Cano’s Twin Cabins and Devonté Hynes’ Blood Orange. Sure, there are the obvious commonalities: a certain penchant for the saxophone, and album covers awash in soft, pink lighting. But the parallels actually hold pretty taut—Cano may not have adopted an entirely new stage name, but his jump from guitar-driven pop rock to electronically-inclined dance grooves loosely mirrors Hynes’ own evolution since his Lightspeed Champion days. Though Twin Cabins independently released the nine-track I’m Sure in 2012, Cano is insistent in calling Harmless Fantasies his official “debut,” and in it he hits his stride as assuredly as Hynes has.
The similarities pretty much end there, though, as Cano commands this particular sub-genre with his own distinct flair. Fantasies opens with much more optimism and exhilaration than Blood Orange would probably ever care to approach. Dense, fuzzy synths take up most of the space in “Made Me,” though they are backed by a thumping beat and stirring, hopeful guitar and sax riffs. Things become much more starkly minimal by the time we reach the first single, “Painfully Obvious,” which relies mostly on the interplay between Cano’s misty, whispered vocals and an echo-y sax courtesy of Cheyenne Bush. The lyrics aren’t crucial—Cano repeats the line “I know that I don’t need to” for much of the song—but nonetheless, he easily communicates tension, intimacy, and longing.
Words become even more obsolete with the instrumental beauty “(Fantasy).” Its deep, reverberating atmosphere sits in contrast with the rest of the album’s weightlessness. There’s a rich crackle and pop to it that imitates the velvety sound of vinyl, balancing out the subdued electronics. Cano clearly knows how to achieve a full, rounded-out sound in addition to the more hollow production heard on a track like “With Pleasure.” Here, there’s an obvious negative space that separates the booming, clubby bass from the sparkly, plucky riff and airy synths.
Though the album is a mere 26 minutes in length, it manages to invoke a very defined progression. While the opening song could pair easily with a packed, energetic crowd, each passing track seems to convey a slightly emptier setting until we are left practically to ourselves on a foggy dance floor. Closing number “Still” is spry enough to encourage movement, but washed-out echoes slowly take over the track until it’s all haze. Cue that familiar, droopy-headed feeling that maybe it’s time for us to head home, too.