Harvey Sutherland – Boy
Read anything about Melbourne’s Mike Katz, and by the end of it you’d have been reminded multiple times that the producer better known as Harvey Sutherland is a self-professed neurotic. In fact, he’s made it his brand. “Neurotic funk,” if you will, is Sutherland’s modus operandi, and over the past decade he’s been refining his formula to churn out disco-funk bangers that have been described as everything from ‘dazzling’ to ‘self-deprecating.’ Both are true; ten years into his career, Sutherland’s funk is at its sharpest, yet the artist remains somewhat skeptical of his success. Speaking with the blog Music Tech about the creation of his debut album, Boy, it’s clear that Sutherland is in his head. A lot. Describing the process of making Boy as “searching for serotonin” and crediting the album’s sound to “just messing around,” Sutherland is remarkably demure for an artist who has quite literally been perfecting his notion of funk. It shows, too. Boy finds ‘funk’ outside of its usual thematic scope. A genre associated with a sense of play, release, and ‘chilled vibes,’ for Sutherland there’s funk to be found in anxiety and OCD tendencies. It is called being ‘in a funk,’ after all. As such, Boy is an album that sees feelings of frustration and pain underpinning its effervescence, an approach that pivots Sutherland toward the clinical machine funk of Kraftwerk synthpop and krautrock.
Jouissance, the album’s lead single, is most telling of this. For a track about intense pleasure it’s alarmingly, well, neurotic. The motorik chug of its synthline and bursts of choral harmonies make Jouissance not so much about relishing in pleasure, but rather about the anxiety of not being able to find it. As the quickest track on Boy, it’s an introduction into Sutherland’s headspace and sets the tone for the ensuing nihilism of tracks like Boy or Angry Young Man. The former, despite what its title might suggest, is a tightly wound symphony of synths and trepid piano beats, an anxious composition that treads with an existential dread rather than youthful exuberance. The latter, a house-funk piece set to a stomping four-on-the-floor, is almost uncanny in its smoothness. In falsetto along the track’s breezy beat, Sutherland professes “Ah, I’m just an angry young man.” On Feeling Of Love with the master of funk himself, DāM-FunK, Sutherland explores a failing relationship by way of funk’s innate “summer of love” optimism. Likewise, Holding Pattern uses scuzzy, horned up disco tropes to tell the story of ending a toxic relationship. It’s a strange dissonance between sound and subject matter that sees Boy play out with the sort of sardonic humour that one might associate with Natasha Lyone. Lyone is actually a good point of departure for understanding Boy’s intent; in channeling the difficult parts of himself into something bright and off-beat, Sutherland may be achieving some sort of self-catharsis. Time On My Side, Boy’s conclusion, is the album’s most overtly optimistic track. Its sunny keys and happy-go-lucky sax licks offer some hope to the storm that is Sutherland’s mind. It’s a sort of antithesis to Type-A, a new wavey song that again uses motorik as a motif toward expressing tension and anxiety while sos does a spoken word about “my mind gets the best of me, I’ve got a type A personality.”
Thematic and conceptual concerns aside, Boy is a good display of just how remarkable of a musician Sutherland is. Whether producing solo or backed by a full band, he truly has perfected his craft, his instinct for dance music impressively sharp. While the album throws him further into funk than before, there’s still classic Sutherland disco-house, particularly on the acrid Slackers. For a debut album that arrives a decade into its creator’s career, it delivers based on years of refinement and, yes, self-doubt. Though hopefully Sutherland can find some peace moving forward. He’s skilled, and it’s this skill that’s allowed him to redefine what ‘funk’ could possibly mean, finding space for his neurosis on a dancefloor most synonymous with I Feel Love sensibilities.
Listen to Angry Young Man from Boy below.
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