By Cory Weaver
There is no question that independent/local/regional bands are grinding out there and putting out better music than much of what’s heard on the air waves and satellite radio. One such band is Kansas City’s Various Blonde, who could and should be on the radio and on your playlist.
Back in September, the band released their third studio album, Love Is How We Will Survive, which has been in the works since the early days of the pandemic. When they issued the album’s title track as a single accompanied by a pretty sleek “we’re not gonna take it” premise video that was filmed in Mexico, it left the listener ecstatic for what was on the horizon for VB.
Love Is How We Will Survive is a completely different vibe than 2016’s All Bases Covered and 2020’s twin EPs, 3s 1 and 3s 2. At no point do Josh Allen (vocals/guitar/synth), Mark Lomas (drums/synth), Jason Nash (Bass) and Bryson Thomas (guitar) shy away from signifiers of previous works. The hallucinatory sounds of Allen’s falsetto, dizzying synth, raspy rawness and howling guitar chords on previous tracks like “Smash & Grab,” “Top Down,” “All Bases Covered” and “375” paved the way to an album that lives and breathes in the realm of prog rock—and I am here for it.
The 32-minute, 11-track album leads off with “Obtuse,” a back-tracked, synth-heavy groove with dreamy vocals overlayed and peppered with desert rock guitar riffs—it’s a bit of old Various Blonde, segueing us into what they’ve become. On songs like the bass-driven “Turn It Up,” the palpitating “Love Is How We Will Survive” and the head-bopping “Too Many Secrets,” where some serious bass meets ever-present but non-overbearing guitar, VB evokes live show vibes, the kind that make you want to rock out and dance.
The midpoint of the album gives us the sexy, danceable “Play With The Pain.” This track embodies VB’s eponymous second album, weaving in and out of signature changes and matching dominant, addictive dark guitar and bass lines with Allen’s raw falsetto echoing throughout—it inspires sweaty dance party feels.
The most surprising track on the album is “Queen of Hearts,” as it melodically embraces post-punk sensibility with what can only be described as funky, early Wilco vocals. “I got a taste of you, then I drank a case of you, but couldn’t keep my pace with you.” The Tweedy-ish vibe is prevalent, but it’s the mind-blow that comes as you realize it might be the truest rock melody that the group has conjured thus far.
Closing out the album is the spooky dark synth side of VB, “Wylde Lyfe,” which begs the question, “How do you get to sleep at night,” and “Trickle Down” with its Little Dark Age feel: “I am just a middleman, I never devised a plan, you told me not to hold your hand, hurry up become a man.”
VB expounds on its new territory and growth as a band musically, all the while paying homage to their previous records. It’s a well-thought album that has been willed into existence slowly