Since the last time indie folk duo Skout graced these digital pages in 2018, the pair of Laura Valk and Connor Gladney have created a lot, experienced more, and worked through things both relatable and entirely individual to their own life stories. Recently, Gladney shared via Skout’s social media that due to a mix of travel and safety precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic and his own personal health conditions, that Skout would, for the foreseeable future, be taking on a new form that, even to this day, is a living work in progress both he and Valk are figuring out together while apart in Nashville and New York City respectively.
Now, as unfortunate and disheartening as the social separation of Skout might sound, this week’s release of a brand new song and music video not only involves both Valk and Gladney but sees them take on new creative roles in directorial and production capacities and brings in the artistic talents of several Black dancers, dancers of color, and a lead actress of color as well. Suffice it to say, Skout’s new single, “Move,” isn’t just a signal that despite some distance between Valk and Gladney, they are able to keep the status quo going. It’s a conceptually bold, artistically nuanced, sizable project that represents not treading in place but an evolutionary leap forward in Skout’s creative ambitions.
That’s just the video though. What about “Move” itself? Well, on the one hand, all this presentation of massive change and grand creativity doesn’t mean the sound of Skout has suddenly shifted to some out-of-left-field place like drone metal or ska punk. The clean and complex acoustic guitar parts many have come to know like a beloved and familiar dance between Valk and Gladney still runs the show. Fleeting moments of fingers grazing the metal winding on thicker guitar strings as the opening bars of low, hollowed rhythmic plucks and a higher, cyclical, motif setting pattern bring in the musical foundation that will propel “Move” forward over a hefty runtime of more than six minutes. Fear no excessively repeated introductory bars or welcome-wearing guitar solos however. For as long as “Move” looks against the backdrop of the typical three and a half minute pop-rock single, “Move” moves along with just as much ease, and even more fluidly, than some hook-oriented songs that eventually become background noise outside of their choruses. “Move” finds, stokes, and holds, viewer attention because it’s not just a song. It’s a contemplation of concept – complete with entirely forthright voiceover by Valk, who ever so naturally lays out what the song is tackling, with the kind of real world delivery that one might find themselves silently thinking within the confines of their own mind.
I don’t know when I exactly first noticed it.
But it feels like it’s always been there.
You see, I’ve calculated and re-calculated my age
in relation to the world around me
thousands of times.
To convince myself I’m still young enough,
I can still make that change,
I still have time.
And every birthday, every new year, every milestone,
I seem to find somebody new to compare myself to
another person’s timeline I can use to justify my own.
– Voiceover excerpt from “Move”
The thoughts Valk reflects upon continue well past this excerpt, and even further past the beginning section of the song. All the while, lead actress in the video, Manatsu Tanaka, walks viewer listeners through a literal journey in the pre-pandemic world of New York, seemingly seeing those around her reflect some of the apprehensions, uncertainties, and self-doubts she has swirling within but refusing to project outward for the audience. On the one hand, such stoic presence could be perceived as confidence but Valk’s directorial vision – having those in the peripherals, those physically around Tanaka, and especially the dancers near the video’s conclusion subtly but still noticeably act out of character – gives way to the unseen emotion. It’s a brilliant marriage of audio and visual, while not going for any kind of shocking cinematography or gimmicky visual effects to amplify the mood or the impact of the combined sonic and sight based cues.
Meanwhile, the melodic growth of the song is built on both a classic Skout soundscape of reverberating plucks, finger taps, organic ambient sounds, mildly billowing vocals, and snugly spaced harmonizing by Gladney and Valk during the verses. The latter glows with particular soothing brightness during some long held lyric-note combinations that really allow the sound and the meaning of the word being said, to sit with a person once it’s been put out there. (I don’t feel like I’m on my way / I just feel my own decay). Add to this, the central rhyming lines of the song which, though sounding somewhat elementary at first, are no less true or matter-of-factly poignant once one has really taken in the message several times in a row during the song.
Time hurts as much as it heals
When you’re stuck waiting for a reveal
And I know I just need to move.
– Lyrics from “Move”
“Move” won’t part the skies or separate the seas to make way for whatever path one is working to blaze for themselves. In fact, the song itself, as well as Valk’s voiceovers, don’t even offer feel-good-ending answers a la a good old fashioned drama film or sit-com. Still, that doesn’t mean the song is incapable of being the catalyst for a day with a better mindset, or a week with more self-satisfaction regardless of the quantity of one’s subjective “hustle output,” or a month full of days each started with a dedicated moment of inner acceptance rather than self-degradation.
There’s power in art that strikes the chord of a person’s inner wavelength – whether it’s of emotional resonance, physical existence, mental similarity, or all the above – even if there’s no magical solution waiting at the end. Feeling heard, seen, and finding a reflection can affect a person sometimes infinitely more than simply being told an idealistic “everything is going to be okay.” The latter is an offering of hope rooted in faith while the former is an offering of someone who’s listening, reiterating and, most meaningfully, validating the feelings of those who can relate to any and-or all of “Move’s” elements of inner and outer conflict.