THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “What should an artist release into the world in a time of collective darkness? Niko Stathakopoulos of Seattle outfit Scarves, grappled with this question as he roamed his neighborhood during the heart of both the pandemic and the election cycle, penning the lyrics for what would for the group’s newest record Delicate Creatures.
What initially was a dire batch of songs soon morphed into a vivid portrayal of the unlikely optimism that emerges within humankind as it buckles beneath the weight of the world. “We’re so attuned to stories of the world ending,” Stathakopoulos says. “Or huge odds, huge stakes. What if they’re smaller? What if they’re about personal relationships? What happened in this one moment?”
With each track, Scarves tells relatable, yet distorted anecdotes through a sheen of pop melodies and lush production, a taut thread of unease surfacing in each perfectly dissonant guitar line, in each melancholic turn of Stathakopoulos’ voice. In the act of distilling the collective dread into the vibrant indie-rock chapters that make up Delicate Creatures, Scarves find the optimism that we perhaps all need. By breaking open the prosaic moments in life — awful wine, obligatory haircuts, worn out T-shirts — Scarves honor the anxiety we all share, as well as our ability to keep pushing against the weight in even the smallest ways.
Dead Batteries becomes perhaps the most literal portrayal of this struggle, opening with a slow and steady beat from drummer Eli Sokolov and Nessa Grasing’s wistful vocal line that together seem to perfectly conjure up the cold weariness that plagued Stathakopoulos during the writing process.
“It’s about licking your wounds in that moment where you’re really frustrated.” Stathakopoulos says, recalling a dark period he spent living in N.Y.C., disillusioned by the music industry, struggling to find employment, and ever in the shadow of the election cycle. “I’m knocking on the door of a future that won’t let us in,” He sings. “Cuz every hand shake in this city will cost ya an arm and a leg and I’m all out of limbs.” As the lyrics continue to circle feelings of obsolescence in today’s society, Stathakopoulos promises that there is levity to be found in what can seem like a never-ending battle.
“I think about optimism as continuation of process — I don’t think actions can be pessimistic. If you’re waking up and going against the grindstone in any capacity, that’s an optimistic act.”
In the title track, Scarves ponder human fragility through an ordinary day that changed in an instant. Inspired by a friend who maintained her composure after busting her lip open on a basketball court, Delicate Creatures conjures up the character of Jackie, a person who comes to embody the attempt to be strong within an unrelenting world.
“A regular moment can explode into blood so quickly.” Stathakopoulos says. “What does that mean for a human? What are we pushing against by existing?” As he paints the portrait of Jackie, a wild thing, Jackie, a switchblade on her shoulder, he fleshes out her out-frame-opponent through her struggles: “It’s hard to stay soft when you feel surrounded by such sharp teeth / It’s hard to stay calm when you feel just like fresh meat.” Still, Stathakopoulos glimpsed an act of resistance on the basketball court that day, however small, and it is this such act that drives the track’s reluctantly hopeful closing lines: “We are all just tiny comets up against one big rock / And I hope you make an impact.”
The production of the record proved to be an act of perseverance against unprecedented odds in and of itself. After fleshing out demos in Cheney, WA, a college town nearly deserted in the wake of the pandemic, Stathakopoulos and guitarist Grasing flew their musical partner Sokolov in from New York and hosted him in their basement for a two-week quarantine. The trio then headed to Vancouver, WA to quarantine for another couple days before tracking with producer and engineer Brandon Eggleston (Modest Mouse, Wye Oak) in late October 2020.
“I think there’s some magic in that middle era of the pandemic, where people are like, ‘A thing I can do? OK!’ ” Stathakopoulos says of the process, which proved immensely gratifying despite its challenges. The result is a record that revives the creative spirit of ’90s bands like Built to Spill and Pavement, while crackling to life with the idiosyncratic highs and lows of today.
“I don’t know if the world is gonna end,” Stathakopoulos concludes. “I think we have to exist within it no matter what.”