There’s something tender and unfinished about “Only Skin.” Fading in at the beginning, the musical setting (piano and percussion, and a bit of guitar later on) is a tentative one, the instruments sketching rather than fully painting the scene. The feeling is not minimalist—there is a full-fledged sense of musical warmth here—but the restraint feels introductory, as if we are waiting for something larger to happen.
It turns out that what is larger that happens is Heather Robb’s voice, a wise and honeyed instrument itself. The arrangement leaves her so exposed you can hear her breathing. She sings about leaving, and the lyrics evoke bygone folk music, both for the way the verses begin and end with the same lines (hey, M. Ward did this last week too) and for some of the lyrical conceits, notably the way the song’s narrator urges the lover she is leaving behind to “Remember me with yellow hair and freckles on my nose.” And then the song takes an abrupt and delicious turn into the 21st century: “Remember me in purple shoes and turquoise pantyhose.” The lover who is leaving is determined to the point of harshness; the titular phrase arrives in the guise of one of the greatest lyrical kiss-offs I’ve yet heard: “Your name is just a noise now/Your face is only skin.” (Ouch.) And yet it comes wrapped in that careful melody, and embellished by those aching, wordless harmonies. Does the narrator mean it, or is she trying simply to convince herself? One can’t be sure, but the bittersweet gentleness of the nearly nursery-rhyme-like music suggests heartbreak under the bravado.
The Spring Standards are three musicians who have been playing various instruments together since their teenage days growing up along the Pennsylvania/Delaware border. They are now located in New York City. “Only Skin” is a track from their double-EP release yellow//gold, which is coming out in May on Parachute Shooter Records.