Blake Mills is one of the most exciting musicians recording today that you’ve probably never heard of, having worked mostly in the background for artists like John Legend, Alabama Shakes and Perfume Genius. Hailed by Eric Clapton as one of the last truly great guitarists, Mills’ understated, textural approach to music has earned behind-the-scenes praise from throughout the industry.
On top of his production accolades, he’s been a session musician for a diverse range of talent — such as Norah Jones, Weezer and Lana Del Rey — and has toured with various artists, from Fiona Apple and Lucinda Williams to Julian Casablancas. Despite the crowd of big names surrounding him, it is notable that the Grammy Award-winning producer’s new single, “Vanishing Twin,” is so subtle and restrained.
In the early 2010s, Mills released Break Mirrors and Heigh Ho, two folk-rock records showcasing his diverse sound and natural songwriting prowess. Look, a five-song instrumental album from 2018, saw Mills heading in a more experimental direction as he pushed the boundaries of what guitars could and should sound like. Released on March 20, the musician’s new single seeks to explore the lasting effect of impermanence, arriving ahead of his new album, Mutable Set, which is set to drop May 8.
Co-written by fellow songwriter Cass McCombs, “Vanishing Twin” finds Mills at a curious intersection of his roots as a singer/session guitarist and his unique production sensibilities: The result is something truly remarkable created in the space in between.
The track opens with a mesmerizing loop of gentle guitar and soft drums as Mills sings about an unseen tether. “Vanishing twin/ Face in the glass/ Hung on the wind,” he murmurs, describing another whose influence still remains. The lyrics suggest a duality between himself and this other, as if they are two parts of a greater whole. He imagines a moment of connection, singing, “Holding your hand/ Paper thin/ folded in half/ Skin on skin.”
The atmosphere is spacious and delicate, allowing Mills’ sparse production touches, no matter how subtle, to come clearly into focus before disappearing back into the mix. Low saxophone whirs and fluttering strings float through the ambience as Mills’ tracked vocals assume an immaterial form. The ebb and flow of these elements instills the track with life and warmth in both the presence and absence of sounds. “Vanishing Twin” possesses a stunning otherworldly quality, offering listeners the opportunity to totally dissipate inside it, reaching its apex as the song gradually crescendos into the ethereal then fades out into silence.
In the song’s accompanying music video, lights from recording equipment flicker in time as instruments appear to play themselves; it’s as if the song is literally unfolding before viewers’ eyes. These visuals serve as the perfect metaphor for the song’s themes, exploring the profound impact inescapable forces and feelings can have on our lives, in this instance personifying Mills’ longing for a continued loving relationship with his own craft.
“Vanishing Twin” is a sensory-elevating experience, as well as one of the most distinctly unique pieces of music to be released so far in 2020. It seems fitting that, in typical Blake Mills fashion, one of the year’s best singles has arrived so quietly under the radar in a time when we could use it the most. Don’t miss it.