WILL VARLEY – The Hole Around My Head (Yellow Cake) 

The Hole Around My HeadSinger/songwriter Will Varley has emerged with his first new material since 2018’s Spirit Of Minnie with ‘The Hole Around My Head’, the title track and first single from the album of the same name which will see release on October 15th. Varley is a known self-starter, having acted as his own advocate from a young age when he would perform his music at any venue that would have him, often gaining entry by way of his trusty fake ID. Later he would become a founding member of the Smugglers Records collective with whom he would release his debut album, 2011’s Advert Soundtracks, and would even go on to self-publish a novel, Sketch Of A Last Day, the culmination of a passion for writing which he has nurtured since childhood. The Hole Around My Head continues the trajectory of the do-it-yourself approach, with Varley not only taking on his usual role as the singer/songwriter, but also as producer and engineer for the project.

Will Varley has always been an interactive artist, from his notorious walking tour to his stage shows during which there often appears to be little separation between the audience and the artist himself. The personability has manifested in several ways throughout his career, not the least of which was his more comedic material which succeeded in its aim but never mitigated the levity of his more serious work. 2013’s As the Crow Flies saw the songwriter begin to embrace the darker aspect of the craft, and in retrospect, the record was a clear precursor to The Hole Around My Head. On his newest LP Varley implements an inventive approach to a basic idea. The songs themselves are performed nearly in their entirety on acoustic guitar, and aside from the vocals, an inattentive ear may not necessarily pick up on much else that is going on in the background. Colouring the atmosphere of the stark acoustic performances are variations of what appear to be synthesizer patches weaving in and out of clips of processed electric guitar loops which serve to fill up the mix but also to introduce a layer of controlled chaos as a juxtaposition to more conventional technique in the foreground. This contrast is leveraged to great effect on tracks such as ‘Love In The New World’ and particularly ‘The Lonely & The Brave’ which utilizes a satisfying dose of dissonance to underline the sonic contrast in dynamic waves, which brings to mind the forward-thinking production utilised by David Crosby on his debut solo album, 1971’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Varley’s approach to the actual process of recording apparently involved the salvaging of older equipment and independent experimentation. The resulting atmosphere is a very particular one which colors the album from front to back, presenting the aura of an artist cold and detached yet simultaneously engaged and genuine, sounding something like English folk’s answer to Kanye West’s minimalist, electronic reflection on 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak. The lack of drums throughout the album provide the album with a spacious feel, with much of the rhythmic propulsion of the songs being left to Varley’s right hand, the dynamics of which are explored exceptionally in songs like “Dreamland” and “Love in the New World”. Varley moves away from standard strumming and chord patterns for “Live Again”, a late-album cut which features a circular melody and a starker attack upon individual notes, harkening back to White Album cuts on which John Lennon utilized a variation of the Travis-picking technique he picked up from Donovan during The Beatles’ time in India, which can be heard on songs such as ‘Julia’ and ‘Dear Prudence’.

The starkness of the album may bring to mind projects like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, but rather than attempting simply to exercise his own demons, Varley appears at times to be speaking on behalf of a societal collective. This is most apparent on Covid-era anthem ‘Pushing Against Us’, a propulsive sing-along number which explores the idea of perseverance in trying times, and the adaptability of humans as a species to the end of simply being able function within a community in the face of change and adversity. This seems to be a general theme of the record itself: the trivial versus the all-encompassing, and how issues of a mundane nature can sometimes be as daunting or even more so than the overwhelming threats we are all faced with on a daily basis that are sometimes impossible to process as anything other than abstractions. Varley’s narrative voice is in prime form throughout, spinning tales of heroes and women trying to make their way through the worlds they have created in tracks like the aforementioned ‘Dreamland’ and the exceptional narrative piece ‘Her Own Private Universe’.

The heavy reverb which colours Varley’s vocals throughout much of the record gives the impression of a man reaching out, attempting to convey what he feels to be of the utmost importance from somewhere just out of reach. The nearly inaudible sonic sculptures which saturate the background of the material seem representative of the truth behind the beauty, the chaos that vows to dishevel the serenity of the moment but that may provide an understanding and truth without which one’s perspective would be insufficiently formed. The Hole Around My Head is a record which seeks to uncover the dark truths hidden within the mundane. Ultimately, the album appears to be about facing the unpleasantries which, in theory, could be easily ignored, but which may be essential in the understanding of oneself. While the climb itself may be somewhat of a struggle, the view from the mountaintop is often more than worth the effort put forth.

Cameron Gunnoe

Artist’s website: https://www.willvarley.com/

‘Pushing Against Us’ – the second single from The Hole Around My Head.

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