Last year saw London-based folk musician Will Varley reach the peak of his career; receiving admirable reviews from some of the biggest names in music press and securing support slots alongside the likes of Frank Turner, The Proclaimers and Billy Bragg. However, 2017 could mark even better year for the singer-songwriter, as next month sees the release of his fourth album, Kingsdown Sundown, via Xtra Mile Recordings. Written over the last year, Varley makes an effort to avoid any kind of pleasantness in an honest and emotional release that intensely reflects the bleakness of the human condition.
Opening track ‘To Build A Wall’ subtly fades in with intricate, almost uplifting melodies. An acoustic effort with melancholic undertones, the vocal work here could almost be mistaken for that of Damien Rice, yet Varley manages to maintain that husky, signature sound throughout. The tone of the record drops a little as the heavy opening strums of ‘Something Is Breaking’ steps in, boasting Johnny Cash vibes and a much darker atmosphere that highlights the political themes of the album, while ‘When She Wakes Up’ could be a musical nod to early folk records.
The intricacy of ‘February Snow’ brings back that sense of melancholy from the album’s opening track, but the emotional intensity behind Varley’s vocals portray a much deeper level of sadness. Again, this is contrasted by the warm, elevating tones of ‘Let Your Guard Down’, interestingly defying Varley’s denial of pleasantness for a few minutes, but it’s not long before the powerful ‘We Want Our Planet Back’ takes over. Directly conversing war, protests, deforestation and global warming, among a variety of other controversial issues, the infectious simplicity of this track highlights its importance beautifully.
The brooding ‘Too Late Too Soon’ comes next, with gentle guitar strums and intense lyrical themes of love and loss. Despite the track’s lack of prominence on this record, it does mark a bittersweet break among political efforts and protest songs, and therefore deserves as much recognition as any other. The melancholic tones of the album then stray a little during ‘Wild Bird’, taking the form of an uplifting, yet incredibly emotive love song in which Varley’s vocals take centre stage, complimented by a subtle acoustic melody and an arrangement of heartfelt lyrics.
‘Back to Hell’ appears to have a western-style acoustic beat as Varley croons out vocal stories in a smooth and haunting manner, while ‘One Last Look at the View’ takes the form of a soft, sleepy ballad. Finally drawing the album to a close as one of the greatest tracks of Varley’s career is ‘We’ll Keep Making Plans’. Comparable to the likes of Bon Iver and Ben Howard, the melodic sounds of this masterpiece creates a dreamy, floating sensation, straying from the negativity of the previous tracks with two minutes of acoustic strumming and gut-wrenching vocal perfection; an excellent ending to an already remarkable album.
Kingsdown Sundown is out October 14th via Xtra Mile Recordings.