by Maxwell Cavaseno
Years ago, when Canadian R&B enigma The Weeknd flung himself out into the world, reaping ever so much attention, I debated with another writer who found the music soulless. A few Lost & Founds in, you readers can probably tell I tend to think I’m some sort of ‘smart guy’. So on a whim, I asked about the robotic activities and music of Kraftwerk, implying it came from a soulless place. Said writer dismissed it easily enough by saying something like “Kraftwerk are soulful, it’s just robot souls.” To this day I can’t honestly say if I agree with him or not, but looking back, if I had to imagine soulful robots, I’d actually mention Spacek.
Spacek are a real curiosity for even the most experienced music nerd; containing vocalist Steve Spacek, guitarist Edmund Cavill and drummer Morgan Zarate, this might have been the most confounding band in their genre for a long time, and even today leave me scratching my head. Like Loose Ends before them, they drew from the traditions of soul, funk and jazz to incorporate them with the technology available to aspiring musicians. Except Spacek were a group who had one ear in the underground, drawing from house, broken beat, hip-hop, techno, you name it. Their first single, “Eve” (which makes its appearance on the LP), is a swarm of Bjork like orchestrations, J-Dilla scattered drums, and plummeting dread bass that’d sound just as home on a drum & bass record. Had D’Angelo been abducted by aliens and dropped back on Earth in 2099, you imagine he’d be writing songs like “Eve”.
Their debut album on Island Records in the UK, Curvatia, is not something you can cut apart with genre labels, those blades go dull on impact. Like, is “Getaway” a sultry neo-soul ballad that Maxwell would’ve tossed out, a tape-loop collage a la Steve Reich, or a lost Kid-A era Radiohead track falling in the hands of a lounge band? Is it unfair to believe that if Dr. Dre and Rhythm & Sound ever met, they’d cook up a nocturnal cruiser of a dream-ballad like “Inside”? To this day, I can’t believe that we’ve never in America produced an experimental act that could still sound this… sensual.
Part of the power and the glory of this album of course has to go to singer/songwriter Steve Spacek. His voice has an aristocratic quality that makes him sound like Mozart gone Mayfield & The Impressions, with an unusually light falsetto tone that swoons in an almost Bowie-like way. The real amazing thing is how he never sounds uncomfortable in such sonically treacherous fields. Imagining a Frank Ocean trying to make himself home in this environment sounds almost cruel, yet Spacek & their brand of alien funk appear to thrive in such conditions. Listen to “How Do I Move”, which sounds like Timbaland forcing out music during a drug-induced seizure, or the way that “Smiles And Roses” sounds like King Tubby records transmitted via walkie-talkie, and ask yourself “How does someone write songs to music like this, and make it work?”
Of course, the problem with guys who like to explore the inhospitable rarely get people to follow them out there. Not only were Spacek one of a kind, they found themselves undesired by their label, who would’ve had a time and a half marketing this sort of group even if they had the confidence. The band would follow up their album with another record called Vintage Hi-Tech, while their members would scatter off in different directions, most finding homes in the fringe of the electronic scenes in England. Yet Spacek are true mavericks, earning admirers such as Philly-based DJ/Producer King Britt (whose Fhloston Paradigm project finds him being labelmates with Spacek’s Morgan Zarate on Hyperdub Records) and rapper Mos Def, and leaving behind a smoky trail into the future of where music could go, if you wanted to.