by Connor McInerney (@b_ck_tt)
“Have you ever noticed your days are all the same?”
Chicago’s Varsity begin their sophomore effort Parallel Person with a question that foreshadows the record’s candid discussion of self critique, isolation, and human relationships. Fortunately such difficult topics are approached with levity in one way or another - on album opener, “Gordi, You’re A Saint,” vocalist and lyricist Stephanie Smith using a dog as a conduit for self-resentment by telling him, “you’re the best, and I’m the worst.” Even the track’s initially minor, foreboding cadence is resolved by the chorus in the form of an explosion of sound that employs a sense of sonic brightness to counteract the song’s lyrical macabre.
It is the interplay between major and minor, light and dark, that creates an ongoing tension throughout Parallel, and the primary element that makes it as engrossing as it is accessible. Varsity as a band sources their inspiration to early and mid-2000s indie rock (citing Wilco and the Strokes as influences in previous interviews). Those influences are noticeable on tracks like “Settle Down,” where various twee guitar lines provide countermelodies to a driving beat and major melody. Rather than fall into a pattern, however, Varsity have used Parallel as an outlet for experimentation. mitigating predictable, satisfying verses by shifting tempo and time signatures just as the listener gets comfortable.
All the while, Smith counters each track’s sweet, melodic elements with self-critical lyrics such as “everything I touch is trash,” and “all I want to do is let you down.” It’s easy to miss the dichotomy of lyrics and instrumentation if you don’t pay attention, but it provides a layer of self-awareness and honesty that contributes to the engrossing nature of Parallel Person as a balancing act between self-resentment and celebration.
External to experimenting in song structure, Varsity ventures into instrumental experimentation on “Discipline” and “Alone In My Principles,” filling in ethereal, electronic swells while simultaneously employing minimalist song composition. Alternatively, album single “Must Be Nice” employs the traditional Varsity song format while complimenting verse and chorus with Zombies-esque psychedelic guitar tones, breaking the mold of their usually warm, non-discordant sound. These shifts often capitalize upon the driving, upbeat nature of Varsity’s previous releases while contributing to the unpredictability that establishes Parallel as a fresh new direction for the band.
It seems fitting that Parallel Person concludes with a question once more, with Smith indicating in “a hundred years, we’ll both be gone,” and asking, “hasn’t anybody been here long?” It feels a nihilist conclusion to a record that is wrought with a nuanced understanding of individuals as imperfect and the necessity of self-criticism. Perhaps it signifies that all things, regardless of their imperfect or seemingly insurmountable elements, will pass in time. Varsity ends their record inconclusively, but implores us as listeners to examine our own lives, our flaws, and our humanity.