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Song Debut: 'Dead Friends' By John Lutkevich’s Soft Fangs

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Soft Fangs is the solo project of Mansfield native John Lutkevich, a newly minted Brooklynite with a diaphanous singing voice and a meticulous ear. His new self-titled EP has a soft, enveloping quality, like a warm cocoon or the hushed descent of falling snow. “Soft Fangs” will be available for download and on cassette Nov. 21, and celebrated with a concert at Great Scott in Allston on Nov. 24.

Lutkevich got his start with The Devil and a Penny, a shoegaze-y indie outfit that he co-founded with three friends from high school. The band was based in Boston for most of its six-ish years of existence, and broke up not long after its members moved to Los Angeles in 2013. After returning to Boston—and a brief stint manning the front counter at Veggie Galaxy diner and bakery in Cambridge—Lutkevich made the transition to Brooklyn and began working on Soft Fangs in earnest.

“It was way different than what I had kind of experienced before, with the whole band thing. That would take hours and hours of effort and deliberation,” says Lutkevich. The “Soft Fangs” EP, by contrast, was a breezier process: “It all happened really quickly, actually. I would do everything in a couple takes.”

Lutkevich wrote the songs and recorded all the parts himself, a solitary method that accounts for the EP’s internal, private feeling. Lutkevich sings in a breathy style obviously indebted to Elliott Smith, his voice mixed to seem somewhere far away and deep, a kind of quiet cry from within. He is enamored with the minutiae of guitar sounds and the expansive properties of percussion, and tends to write down-tempo numbers that, even when they feature pop-steeped melodies and growly guitars, inevitably drift towards repose. In many ways, “Soft Fangs” is a study in disenchantment.

“Dead Friends” is the last, and most concise, of the tracks on “Soft Fangs.” It was composed a little while after The Devil and a Penny broke up, prompting Lutkevich to muse on the disintegration of friendships. The song is built around a plunky guitar riff recorded on an old tape deck from the ‘60s and enlarged with lugubrious drumbeats and a shaker egg, which even somehow manages to sound sad. “So far I’m only hanging around/ The graveyard after the sun goes down,” sings Lutkevich, his voice almost a whisper. “To feed on everyone I thought I once related to.”

“I think what makes music ... really good, and art in general, is knowing when not to keep playing. Or when not to keep painting,” says Lutkevich. “Because, yeah, you can just layer and layer s--t forever, but space can be so much more important, and more moving, than clutter.”

“Dead Friends” ends on a rhetorical fadeout, a lyric with no clear meaning but an unshakable sense of yearning: “I broke into your old apartment/ And climbed into the oven.” Lutkevich’s voice expands like an echo, then disappears. As if to defy its gloomy implications, “Dead Friends” ends on a quiet, yet decisive, major chord.

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