The art of disappearing: why Sky Ferreira’s ‘Masochism’ took the slow road

From The Maccabees to LCD Soundsystem, it's proven that taking a step out of the spotlight can ultimately pay off

There’s an art to knowing exactly when it’s time to leave. It’s precisely the reason why so many of us reluctantly agree to stay for ‘one more’ before getting absorbed into a Bandersnatch-like labyrinth of increasingly poor choices. Before you know it, an entire seven hours have passed, and for reasons beyond your comprehension, you’re now in an Uber heading the opposite direction to your house. Meanwhile, your mate who called it a night at last orders will wake up with a minimal hangover, and a whole weekend of opportunity ahead of them. Who knows, they might even go on a jog? 

Equally, loads of artists have managed to make a masterful exit from the spotlight. Just look at Wild Beasts and The Maccabees; two bands who amicably broke up at the peak of their creative powers. When Hayden Thorpe and co. called it a day, a short while after releasing fifth album ‘Boy King’, they did so with very little fanfare. “We’re care takers to something precious and don’t want to have it diminish as we move forwards in our lives,” read their goodbye statement, adding that it’s “now time to leave this orbit”.

And then there’s The Maccabees, who disbanded straight after the biggest summer of their careers. Stepping into festival headliner shoes at Latitude, and releasing ‘Marks To Prove It’ – an anthemic love letter to Elephant & Castle, and up there among their best records to date – they sacked off the band, treating fans to one last farewell tour on their way out. These days, frontman Orlando Weeks is focused on various other projects, like his fully illustrated book The Gritterman. His bandmate Felix White now heads up YALA! Records, while Hugo White produces for the likes of Matt Maltese and Ten Tonnes. Leaving on a high, The Maccabees will go down as one of the defining indie bands of their generation.

It would’ve been a completely different story if they had carried on for the sake of it, lumbering into the creative doldrums like guitar-wielding crustaceans for years on end. We’ve all seen the bandmates that end up squabbling and suing each other after decades of recording studio cabin fever, just as everyone can name a band that made a jaw-droppingly bold  album before slowly creaking their way to eventual demise.

It’s not just a case of knowing when to break up for good, either. Bands like Creeper and The 1975 have, in recent years, made disappearing off the face of social media into an art form. Many others stand firm in the face of frenzied anticipation, sometimes taking decades to craft the perfect album. At the time, it’s a painful wait for fans; there are only so many all-caps ‘RELEASE R9, RIRI’ tweets that a person can bring themselves to send over the course of a year. But further down the line, with hindsight on side, the wait feels worth it. 

After unleashing their flawless magnum opus ‘Loveless’ in 1991 My Bloody Valentine made a sneaky French exit and didn’t perform again in public for sixteen years. Others craft the perfect goodbye before surprising everyone with an unexpected encore. LCD Soundsystem went out in a final blaze of glory; immortalising their ‘final’ gig at Madison Square Garden in documentary film Shut Up and Play the Hits. Sure, while LCD Soundsystem’s extravagant gesture ultimately marked the start of an extended hiatus instead, James Murphy only returned with ‘American Dream’ when he had something new to say, five years on.

The same year that My Bloody Valentine eventually returned with ‘m b v’, Sky Ferreira released ‘Night Time, My Time’. Her debut album arrived after numerous delays and disputes with her label; when Capitol refused to pay for any more recording sessions, Ferreira funded them herself. Sonically, it was a pointed departure from earlier EPs ‘As If!’ and ‘Ghost’ – putting a murkier slant on her crisp pop, it was equal parts yé-yé and grunge, with a post-punk roughness that recalls bands like Suicide and Television. It also marked Sky Ferreira out as an artist unwilling to compromise her vision. Refusing to play ball with being shipped around the world to work with endless pop hit-makers and old blokes trying to market her to the charts, Ferreira eventually struck gold, on her own terms. “She doesn’t need a room full of 50-year-old guys,” her then-manager Mike Tierney told Vulture, “to tell her what other 21-year-old women want to hear.”

After ‘Night Time, My Time’ Sky Ferreira didn’t exactly do a vanishing act, but her career certainly moved in different directions – in recent years she’s starred in both Baby Driver, and David Lynch’s newly-returned Twin Peaks. It’s only now – six years on from her debut – that she’s in a position to release a record that she’s completely confident in, rid of interference. With a complicated creative process that takes time to get right, that can take years – recently Sky recalled a direction she gave to Danish violinist Nils Gröndahl, who plays on her unreleased track ‘Downhill Lullaby’. As she put it speaking to Pitchfork this week, “I’m not looking for ‘a moment’. I’m looking for a career”

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I have been very quiet about what's going on with my music for a few reasons. Mostly it's because I've been working on it. I have been working on several other projects. I'm very excited about it all. I was genuinely stuck at the mercy of other people before (for almost years at this point).No matter how hard I tried,it was beyond me.I couldn't say anything because of the possibility that it would make things worse. Being silent or "politically correct" wasn't much help either. It felt way worse tbh. It has been genuine tasking on my soul & so frustrating. I stuck to my guns & that makes the process a lot longer than you would expect it to. There are so many factors to it all that would be silly to get into. I didn't wait this long to put out something that meets the bare minimum for some.GOD BLESS a majority of those people are now out of my way & those problems are being fixed. For the first time in a very long time I have a support system to help me (music wise). It's only up from here. I'm starting to be in a good place creatively/overall & I'm very excited to put out new stuff & I can't promise that you'll like it ~~everyone is different~~BUT I can promise that anything I put out myself is & will be whole hearted & 100000000 dedication. I am planning on making something and putting out something soon. 💙💙💙💙💙💙💙 xoxoxoxoxxx ****Also I gotta point out something: I don't know why this happens every time I make a record after a decade (yoinks) of doing this because…I MAKE POP MUSIC?!?? It's not THAT complicated?

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‘Play it as if you’re one of the birds in Snow White, singing underwater, while slowly being suffocated by plastic.” she told PitchforkElsewhere Sky embraces her tendency for taking her time:  “it wouldn’t be a release from me if it wasn’t delayed” she joked in an Instagram pose. “(KIDDING!)”

Admittedly ‘Masochism’ does feel like it has taken forever. After all, we now live in an age where the tiniest scraps of information are available instantly. With a few taps on a touch screen it’s possible to find out what shoes Harry Styles wore two weeks ago on Monday, whether St Vincent prefers tacos or burritos, and which Top 40 singers suffer from hayfever.  

It’s a modern phenomenon that Sky Ferreira understands well, too – every time she opens her mouth, it seems, her remarks are plastered all over the internet five minutes later. A post from 2017, which discussed at length various logistical issues and the importance of sticking to her guns – “I didn’t wait this long to put out the bare minimum” she wrote – was turned into a single snappy headline. Sky Ferreira is“ Putting out Something Soon”.

Let’s be real, here – six years isn’t a lifetime. By resisting the pressure to squeeze out a mediocre EP to tide everyone over – by knowing when to step away – Sky’s set herself up for a blinder. Her debut remains one of the most exciting alt-pop releases of the noughties, and from this point on, it’s all in ‘Masochism’s hands.