Tim Larson

Vargar

Written by: TL on 05/02/2014 13:03:12

When a release dumped into our submission pile from Chicago-based songwriter Tim Larson - whom nobody at Rockfreaks.net had heard about at that point - the jokes of course manifested instantly, and it was swiftly agreed that my one-letter proximity to being the man's namesake was reason enough for me to review "Vargar", reportedly his first album released as a solo record, apart from his backing band The Owner/Operators.

On "Vargar" the guitar is the leading instrument with the electric occasionally trading places with an eerie acoustic counterpart and with a dark synth supporting in varying degrees, but the main characteristic is clearly Larson's voice which is very low, resonating from depths alongside or even below the likes of Matt Berninger or Mark Lanegan. No really, it's almost comically deep. We're down in My Dying Bride or Christopher Lee (see his awkward "Charlemagne" metal-opera) territory, and I truly struggle to remember having come across a more bassy vocal performance in my years of reviewing.

The thing is, a very bassy vocal performance can sound just as awkward as a very high pitched one if not wielded expertly and elegantly, and either by choice or by circumstance, Larson's delivery here is inevitably pretty bleak, sitting in the middle of depressingly morose compositions where the electric guitar and synth echo hopelessly and gray in the background. It does at least sound uncompromising (and to me, oddly 90s ish) in the sense that listening will give you the feeling that the album cover should've been marked with "Abandon all hope all ye who enter here". But it doesn't give you that feeling of "wow, this is so different in a way that somehow makes perfect sense" as much as the one of "this is so taxing and unrewarding to listen to".

The problem is that the arrangements here are rather minimalistic, and when you go that route, the few movements you rely on have to be inherently strong. Larson's aren't. The synth backing opener "Chasing It" sounds out of place and the post-punk-ish "6" symptomatically resolves its up-tempo (relatively) opening rather feebly. The acoustics of "Dust" and "Don't Look Down" slow things to a crawl and later, at the end of the record, title track "Vargar"'s lyrical imagery of hyenas and wolves feels forced and banal. If asked to select a highlight, the guitar that wails in the back of "Dark Outside" like it's the end of days is kind of cool, but if I'm honest, I don't see myself coming back to any of the eight tracks on offer here, either individually or for the overall atmosphere. Even if you really like deep voices, the gap between Larson's songs and more high profile comparisons, like this or this or this, is just too gapingly wide.

Download: Dark Outside
For The Fans Of: The National, The Twilight Sad, Mark Lanegan, The Horrors
Listen: followdeath.com

Release Date 04.02.2014
Self-released

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