Nine months after the release of his debut LP as Sam Evian, Sam Owens was loading into an A-Frame house in upstate New York to make his next record. He'd initially wanted to rent out Big Pink, whose basement once proved to be one of the deepest reservoirs of American music, but had settled instead on a recently renovated friend of a friend's house on the Ashokan, one of the deepest reservoirs of New York City tap water. The house had no air conditioning and it was July. He had four rules for the recording: no tuning pedals; the band could only keep one take of each song; the sessions would be the first time anybody had played these songs; and everybody would eat well. Out of the morass of mid-summer flies and 90-degree days emerged You, Forever.
"Health Machine" is that record's lead single, a song that shows those self-enforced limitations to exceptional effect. The track has the raw enthusiasm of an early take. It is a bludgeoning cut, driven by mottled guitars and balanced by Owens' slapback vocal, which floats as ever above the fray. Where 2016's Premium embodied an isolated vocal aloofness, "Health Machine" is a woolly, slow-grooving production that's crowded with musicians and heavy July humidity.
By day, Owens is an engineer at Figure 8 Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y. Premium used those facilities to crisp, chromium effect, but You, Forever intentionally eschews that polish. "What you're hearing is the sound of people trying so hard to do their very best," Owens says of recording live in a room soon after learning the songs. "Thinking on their toes and gut reaction and all of this stuff that you don't get when you play a song a bunch and workshop it."
"Health Machine" is the first sally into that sound. It's a wry take on living in an ailing, touring body, a song that is as concerned with the various, real machines that preserve our music as it is with the imaginary ones that might preserve our bodies, forever.
You, Forever comes out June 1 via Saddle Creek.