Spirit of Minnie by Will Varley
“Breaking news I can’t hear anymore/lines in the sand that we used to draw/looking for another kind of war”
It’s rare that an album has such an immediate impact that 30 seconds is enough to be certain it’s love. All Those Stars by Will Varley delivers that visceral reaction. Deliberate percussion and subtle guitar work underpin Varley’s distinctive voice. It’s rich and complex, simultaneously world-weary and achingly beautiful. The lyrics are intriguing too. They’re non-specific but so clearly of our times.
“Amy’s baby just turned 18/lifetime flash like laser beams”
Key themes of the album are introduced early on, speaking of generational crisis centred on the inexorable passage of time. Varley repeats “all those stars/not that far.” He’s still striving, still searching.
In Seven Days, we hear “I shut my eyes/maybe I disappear/maybe tonight, maybe next year.” Willingness to escape seems like a coping mechanism kept in reserve in case of emergency. However, even that is problematised in Screenplays: “delete your page/stare at the screen/you traveled through Asia but you’re still alone.” It’s made clear that “running from the truth/running from the light” is not a solution. However, it’s not clear what is instead. The laconic delivery lends an air of reluctant acceptance. Cinematic rising strings add to the narrative feel.
“It’s just our life passing us by”
Breaking The Bread is almost spoken word. There’s just the hint of instrumentation for the bulk of the first verse, and gently rising after that. There’s a lot to take in in the lyrics. “If your heart is an ocean then I am a sinking ship” is quite a way to describe falling in love. The onslaught of information leads back to the importance of human connection to make life meaningful. Although the spectre of death haunts the scene, it’s balanced by a proposal.
The previous song begins and ends with a statue that endlessly watches the scene unmoved and unchanging. Statues continues the interrogation of primal themes: “as we made all these plans/it felt like we needed more days…maybe time is a statue not a river…a decade to me now is like a summer when I was a boy.” It’s more definitive and melodic than the last, perhaps even more thought-provoking in its immediacy.
The title track starts out as a seemingly autobiographical tune of a singer staying away from home. Then it takes a turn from the ordinary as a taxi driver regales him about the dancing Spirit of Minnie: “she was here when the cowboys came running and she’ll be here when this is all sand.” Discordant and imperious notes match the dramatic tale. As 4:00 a.m. passes, the protagonist has a similar mystical experience. However, drunk and overtired, his thoughts return to transatlantic reality. “I fell asleep thinking how my lover’s just waking up now,” Varley muses.
“Running through these alleyways/reckless as newborn wolves”
Varley’s certainly got a way with words. The refrain of Let It Slide is hymnal and anthemic, Leonard Cohen style. The song waltzes through vignettes. Then we get more musings on time. “look at us living out our little lives now/you distract me so well/I bet you hardly remember when each second was a living hell.”
The Postman is already a mainstay of the live set. It was inspired by a French postman who spent years collecting stones to make a breathtaking structure. Percussion slowly builds as the song progresses until it’s all-encompassing.
Strings subtly simulate the Insect of the title, then there’s a self-own of epic promotions: “my parents made me out of alcohol and boredom/I provided purpose, a distraction for them.” It unfolds like a pessimistic Jungle Book-style study of humans: “they taught me the ways of the two-legged carnivore/breathe the air for free/the rest you have to pay for/and there are these things that we drop from aeroplanes onto other human beings/turn them into pieces of people.” In the grand scheme of things, we’re as insignificant as insects despite delusions of significance.
“Now all you need are those people of paper and if you get enough of them you can exchange them for a tiny piece of the earth’s surface/you can tell yourself you own it/keep telling yourself you own it/until you die on it”
There we have it. One final dissection of time for an album that is fascinated and terrified by time and by the impulse to find yourself or disappear.
Spirit of Minnie by Will Varley is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.
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