PREMIERE: Howard Ivans Brings Subtle, Supple Funk on “Back to the Life”

Courtesy of Spacebomb Records.

You may know Ivan Howard as one half of the North Carolina indie rock duo The Rosebuds or as a member of Justin Vernon’s soft-funk combo GAYNGS (or, if you are a nerd of the highest order, as a journeyman infielder from baseball’s earliest days). But you probably don’t know Howard Ivans.

In fact, Ivans seems to be a mystery to Howard, too—he’s a second person lurking within the first, a kind of funky apparition. According to his bio, he’s a personage whose presence flared when The Rosebuds did a full-album cover of Sade’s Love Deluxe, and who, we have to assume, grew to massive, Lincoln in the Bardo–esque heights when he met Prince backstage at a GAYNGS show, the purple one unfurling a solo on his unplugged Strat.

However you conceive of him is no real matter; what matters is what he’s conceived of himself. And that would be Beautiful Tired Bodies, a solo-esque debut on the always trustworthy Spacebomb Records. Ivans teamed up with that label’s Trey Pollard and Cameron Ralston, and it’s hard to imagine there being any one person better suited to record this album than the duo—as to go-to producer and bassist for the Richmond cooperative responsible for the damp soul sound of both Matthew E. White and Natalie Prass, they’re a perfect match for the late-night disco of Ivans’s “Back to the Life,” which we’re very pleased to be premiering this morning.

Of course, calling it “late-night disco” makes it sound like Ivans is stirring up some randy vibes. And to a certain extent, that’s true—he scribbles out guitar lines over a tight groove, and croons “Back to the life / Forget about everything” in coaxing little coo, but it feels instructive to remember that this is a personality at work, which is to say that it’s not the proverbial Man Himself. We get glimpses here and there—“Are we just dust on the spines of two old books?,” he sings at one point, and it’s not clear whether that “he” is Howard Ivans or Ivan Howard. That crack of ambiguity lets in just enough light to illuminate the song from another angle, and, as it often does in the best work of Ivans’s stated inspirations, complicates the funk.

“Back to the Life” is the title track of Howard Ivans’s debut, which is out 9/22 via the mighty Spacebomb.

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