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Deep Voices #63
Who the hell is "Skunk Boy"?
Matt Werth’s RVNG label does many excellent things, one of which is the long-running FRKWYS series, pairing avant-garde collaborators across generations. Julianna Barwick and Ikue Mori, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani, and possibly my favorite, Arp and Anthony Moore. Moore founded the group Slapp Happy, played with Henry Cow, and his ’70s solo work is a touchstone of minimalism. Arp, otherwise known as Alexis Georgopoulos, was a member of the early 2000s percussion-heavy post-punk group Tussle, before starting his solo dreamy synthesizer project. (Their edition is FRKWYS 3, from 2010; at this point, Arp might qualify as the senior partner in a new duo.) The music of both Arp and Moore consists of unfurling tones, not necessarily drone, but something more bucolic. A collaboration between the two could have lacked spice, finding a common language in the clouds, but instead it’s quite bubbly. Track two, “Spinette,” is a real delight: Arp and Moore abandon the precedent of either of their eras and throw it back a century to make something sexy and baroque. A galloping piano, a dreamy sweep of the cello. A barnburner for the Gilded Ages. Sense, sensibility, and “Spinette.”
Fourteen years ago, when I was working at the Fader, we did a piece on Mica Levi, then going by Micachu. It was for an issue we did in tribute to David Byrne, and their story was part of a package of artists who were following in his footsteps. I remember one of the options for photos had Levi covering their face entirely with their fist. It was very cool and very weird. But, I said, we can’t run only one photo of an artist and not show their face. So we didn’t. Looking back, that was a mistake.
We were right, at least, about the Byrneian heights of Levi’s career. In addition to flourishing as a bandleader, Levi has become an Oscar nominated composer of film scores, and a valued collaborator, particularly across two brilliant albums with her friend Tirzah. But despite the breadth of Levi’s skill and ambition, they still yawn off little songs from time to time, lofi golden nuggets like “Skunk Boy.” At 1:18 long, there’s not a lot to it, a little guitar strum and Levi’s throaty monotone. “Sleep, sleep, I just want to sleep,” they sing, and it does at first sound like a little lullaby, before the song takes a hard left with the next line: “I don’t want to wake the other prisoners.”
I love songs like this. I love art like this. A genius mumbles into a tape recorder. A genius doodles on a paper napkin. Informality from those capable of the grandest of formalities. A way to rest when you’re never off duty. Who the hell is “Skunk Boy”?
You can go in two directions with British monotone music: the Maximum Joy direction, with a song like “Silent Street” that finds itself lumbering along dazedly, stunned by the gorgeousness of the world. Set that style for another day, another Deep Voices. Today, we’re in the mopey zone, with FITH’s “Forest,” which is monotone because it’s sung straight from the dirt. They can’t breathe too well down there. The archetype of this kind of moody British person talk-singing has got to be This Heat. They open an album commanding, “you are now in a deep sleep.” You could keep listening, or you could nod out for a while. Up to you. I love British people who do not give a fuck. Sing? Fuck you! We’re gonna mumble and bang on the drums like heathens. Perfect music.
It was a perverse pleasure, then, to discover “Forest” a few weeks ago, a song of dire sounding muffled poetry. The whole thing sounds like someone being kicked when they’re down. British people have moodiness down to an artform. Would I like this music if I was from the UK? Perhaps I like it because it lets me be a tourist. I feel like Paddington, far from home but ever curious. Pass the marmalade.
Charles Webster typically makes deep house; how he was called upon to remix the Tindersticks is beyond me. It was an excellent wildcard idea, as his 2021 take on the stalwart rock group’s “Man Alone (Can’t Stop the Fadin’)” is a dream. The original is already a long and loping track, but it gets a bit busy; Webster adds by subtracting, pumping up the heartbeat of a bass line, adding a small sweep of vocal echo. I find the song to be really stirring. Listening, I’ve reminded of the Henrik Schwarz remix of Coldcut’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Hopefully I will not make them both seem lame, but I feel like they are both “mature” remixes. These are songs that have bloomed, not erupted. And wouldn’t you rather be a flower than a grenade?
Patience is a quality I’ve learned. I used to think patience was keeping your head down, absorbing the blows. But then, once in a while, I’d completely lose my cool. I wasn’t being patient, I was being quietly obdurate until I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. Patience is about maintaining a steady pace, averaging the ups and downs and translating that into reliability for others. I don’t think that rules out surprise, but it does hopefully rule out erraticism.
Maybe you’re a patient person who turns to music for wildness. Free jazz, grindcore, whatever. That makes sense. But recently I have not been drawn to the wildest of extremes. I do wonder, as my temperament has changed, has my interest in music. Time will tell, as it always does. For now, this song is right on schedule.
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