What I’m listening to: Parallel Person by VARSITY

listen here: varsity.bandcamp.com/album/parallel-person

Listening to VARSITY on repeat has become a summer tradition for me. I first discovered the band in summer 2016, and spent long bus rides to work shuffling through Cult of Personality/So Sad, So Sad and the self-titled album; last summer I dug into the older, more rock-y EPs and learned all the words to Still Apart while trying to hold onto long-distance relationships and friendships. So I was eagerly awaiting Parallel Person, and it’s begun to worm its way into my seasonal consciousness just as its predecessors did.

On first listen, the album is both what you would expect from the progression of VARSITY’s previous work, and maybe also a bit lacklustre, with a mellower and cleaner sound, and a slower pace that lacks some of the earlier albums’ more punk-y edge. But after a few more listens, especially with a decent-quality stereo, the subtleties become increasingly intoxicating. And while a sunshiney sound is one thing that keeps me coming back to VARSITY each summer, the true hook is the quirky and honest portrayals of interpersonal relationships, specific in story but universal in the underlying emotions; this album takes the space to dive into this aspect, with a number of characters being introduced.

“Settle Down” didn’t excite me all that much as a single; while the video, with its ever-growing procession of kooky characters, is endearing and fun, art about making art runs the risk of being too self-reflexive, and maybe a bit lacking in emotional intensity. But “Must Be Nice” adds a more driving energy, with rock refrains more reminiscent of the band’s earlier work. This song, along with ones like “Isolation” and “Lied for You” emerge as the higher-energy and catchier pieces of the album. But what becomes increasingly intriguing in even the mellower tracks is the push and pull; there’s a delicacy to the lighter pieces, with sunny pop sounds moving in and out of minor-key dissonance and lyrics that trace the complicated territory of changing relationships.

The most new and exciting aspects of the album appear in some of the later songs, where experiments with instrumental aspects emerge; “Discipline” has a haunting quality, fading out almost completely before returning to a final refrain. The final track, “Alone in My Principles,” runs a confident eight and a half minutes, and feels like a conclusion to both the lyrical and musical themes of the album — speaking of both loneliness and growth, and building through echoey repetitions that let you really sink into the synthy sounds. This track is a personal favourite of mine — I have a predictable weakness for “songs about leaving,” and this is certainly one; what starts as driving away weaves itself into a more complex exploration of the process of trying to re-create yourself, with the hollow backdrop of loneliness and impermanence. But ultimately the refrain is “I will go on;” ultimately the track is both haunting and strangely uplifting.

Parallel Person has the finesse that comes from being a more mature album, with layers well worth digging into. As always, VARSITY captures the complicated realities that come with growing older, but always with a sense of catharsis or lightness; and as my own life gets more uncertain, the message to carry seems to be this optimism — to accept and even celebrate the complications, and keep moving forward.

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