Professional cynic Will Varley returns with his third full album, Postcards From Ursa Minor – his first release with Xtra Mile Recordings – to grace keen ears with a beautifully crafted record that seamlessly weaves critical social commentary and grand cosmic narratives through nostalgia and deeply personal intimacy.
Written as a disenchanted outsider looking in at a dystopia of war, celebrity cultism and the exhausting slog ordinary living, Varley’s attack on modernity is a most pleasant sounding assault. Camaraderie and joviality in As For My Soul and Seize The Night sit comfortably against sweeping journeys into the cosmos, while the gentle capturing of intimate memories in This House or Dark Days Away bring things back to earth with an aching humanity.
Truly heartbreaking is The Man Who Fell To Earth, which tells the story of Jose Matat – an African immigrant whose body was found in a London suburb one morning having fallen from the fuselage of a plane while attempting to illegally gain entry to the UK. Varley’s ability to paint an elaborate canvas of ordinary life in which to place this tragedy only serves to make the song all the more poignant.
Label mate Frank Turner (with whom Varley is currently touring in the UK and who pops up in a few tracks along with Beans On Toast) has cited him as ‘one of the best singer-songwriters in the UK’ – and he’s not wrong.
How songs such as Outside Over There – a beautifully crafted traditional folk tale that reads like it is straight out of a dark fairy tale – can work so well juxtaposed against Talking Cat Blues – the comedic undoing of a cat who meets his downfall through online fame – and still end on an affecting and powerful album is testament to the genius of his writing, and tasteful production which has spared the record from the threat of sounding juvenile.
The record draws to a close with Is Anyone Out There which has actually been transmitted out into space using a 20 foot parabolic satellite dish in the US.
Maybe if Varley’s doing the talking for us, we might stand a chance with the neighbours.