Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that Richard Youngs's 'Sapphie' was all about a dead dog.
I don't know if someone insinuated this idea in front of me or if I psychologically tethered the title to the tenderly printed dog paw on its cover, not to mention the raw and plaintive vocalizations of the three-song set. Either way, I've gone over a decade thinking this remarkable, windswept album of torch songs was about a dearly departed pet.
And yet, as we approached a reissue of this Jagjaguwar classic and a new, reimagined version by artists Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Moses Sumney, Sharon Van Etten and Perfume Genius, Richard Youngs was straightforward and unsentimental about its meanings - or lack thereof. "The lyrics are not about anything in particular," Youngs wrote. And I had to just cackle at his note, the rest of which was much more interested in the technical and studio aspects of the recording. He wrote about how "Soon It Will Be Fire" is a first-take cut recorded on a SM57 mic for a Glasgow pirate radio station called Sub City, run by a man named John Hogarty.
"We both sensed there was more to this project," Richard wrote plainly. "So, next week, I went round John's place again. Using the same approach, we recorded the remaining two tracks that would be 'Sapphie.'" That's that. Nothing mystical, nothing poetic.
The paw prints on the cover are, in fact, that of a friend's dog ("The first dog I ever loved," Richard said.), but there is no devastating loss at its center. He also attached a .jpg of his current pet: a happy, poodle-looking thing.
And so, I want to tell Richard what this album has really meant to me and a great many friends, artists and fellow travelers over the years, dead dog or no. I want to tell him how it's become a centering album for a great many of us, a transcendent and meditative piece of art, a place we go for a rare little bit of peace, or maybe even for a good, private, cleansing cry. I want to share with him this other record by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble called 'Book of Sound' that, in its own heavy way, hits the same nerve as 'Sapphie.'
Richard should know that in a heroically stoned moment in 2018, two friends said to one another "Hypnotic Brass Ensemble should cover 'Sapphie.'" And that Hypnotic Brass Ensemble just sweetly and immediately agreed to do it in a matter of one phone call. Nothing mystical, nothing poetic. And how, now, three years later, it's all coming together on the occasion of Jagjaguwar's 25th anniversary.
"What does 'the mindfulness drill' have to do with it?" Richard asks dryly me in a note.
It's about being relentlessly present, Richard. It's how when we listen to your album, we feel like a lonely traveler in a foreign country. How everything has a newness to it and there's no one to share it with but the you inside of you. And then, how maybe we all feel like that most of the time in our lives. Drawing shapes on water with our fingertips, watching those shapes ripple out into a stillness, wandering the halls of a quiet museum. How goddamn close mindfulness is to mindlessness when it's all said and done. And that fine, fine line is where 'Sapphie' lives, Richard. Thank you for this, Richard. This is our resounding and heartfelt thank you for 'Sapphie,' don't you see?
After considering this heartfelt tribute, this miracle of an album, Richard replied: "Reimagining anything is, well, unimaginable."