Label: Run For Cover Records
Release Date: 29th May 2020
“Although these songs might not remind me of sunny road trips a year on from now, they feel very apt for the current situation we are navigating.”
I discovered Varsity when I was on a road trip around America last summer. Hailing from Illinois, the five-piece band has been releasing music since 2013, with Fine Forever as their third album. On the trip, we endlessly blasted their much earlier song ‘So sad, So sad’ through the speakers, as well their second album Parallel Person. Varsity’s experimentative sound and relatable lyrics had me hooked.
Interestingly, in an interview with American Songwriter, lead singer Stephanie Smith explained that “a song is like a time capsule, for either the listener or the writer”. The idea of a song representing a particular time in my life; whether it be an ex, a set of exams or a summer holiday, is really relatable for me. So, when I heard Fine Forever was being released, I was both excited for Varsity’s sound to transport me back to sunnier times as well as to hear how their music had changed. Here are my thoughts. Fine Forever carefully mixes elements of bedroom pop, 90s indie pop, and rock. ‘Runaway’ has a catchy tune that has a definite bite to it that reminds me of HAIM. The edgy, rebellious tone nicely contrasts the unexpected but wonderful saxophone solo in the middle, reminiscent of the 80s.
‘Memphis Blue’ reminds me of Mellow Fellow, another favourite musician of mine, in the juxtaposition of a soft sound with jazzy riffs. The feeling of the songs shifts between intensity and then a much more relaxed, easy vibe. The push and pull between these two different moods are brought together by meaningful lyrics in a really unified way. The sweetness in Smith’s vocals in ‘Wrecking Line’ contrast the angry storyline of leaving and letting a relationship die. I love how the song shifts from a chilled and sleepy sound, building up to a climax with a strong bassline and drums. The line “sold my diamond ring, but you can’t buy security” is golden, commenting on conflicting millennial or Gen Z desires to be independent but also feeling lonely.
In some ways, this album feels like a teenager’s diary: an exploration of love, loneliness, loss, and everything in between. However, it is much more nuanced than that. Each song delves into different aspects of identity, relationships and experiences, overall discussing what it is to live in our modern world as human beings with complex emotions.
The protagonist goes from feeling helpless to feeling unstoppable in ‘Heaven Sent’ assertive lyrics and bold synth-pop tune. There is a distinct versatility across the album, capturing different feelings and moods but all washed with an inward-looking focus on the self. ‘Sicko World’ is the last track on the album and is definitely my favourite. The groovy bass guitar running throughout makes it a catchy and memorable tune. It also features lyrics that discuss mental health in a raw and honest way. These encapsulate feelings of entrapment, confusion, and frustration in a beautifully succinct way as well as a sort of existential desperation with the state the world is in.
Ironically, the song mentions quarantine, unpacking feelings of loneliness and separation, which I must say feels all too akin to our current circumstances. I felt both comforted and jarred by the repeated line “if anyone could read my thoughts / they’d lock me away / I'm just another headcase.” Like a lot of the other songs in the album, each song is a work of art that sways between different moods and messages, almost like a conversation with oneself.
This song wraps up the album in an interesting manner: reflecting on the monotonous and cyclical nature of the world we are living in. The faded “goodnight” gives a sense of the protagonist losing faith. However, the repeated cries of “help me out” is almost a metaphorical hand reaching out to the listeners. We are all in this together: we are figuring it out as we go and that is okay.
I don’t love this new album as much as some of their previous work, partly because I think my favourites are rooted in nostalgia. I would say that these songs grow on you the more you listen: each time, you find something different. Although these songs might not remind me of sunny road trips a year on from now, they feel very apt for the current situation we are navigating.
Words by Elle Woods-Marshall.
10th June 2020.