Varnaline | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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The music on Varnaline's impressive debut, Man of Sin (Zero Hour), is almost entirely the product of Anders Parker, a native New Yorker who found himself restless in Portland and kept recording songs at home to alleviate the boredom. Even if Varnaline remained a therapeutic recording project exclusively there'd be plenty to look forward to, but prior to the album's release Parker moved back east and got himself a band. With the singer's brother John on bass and drummer Jud Ehrbar (formerly of Scarce and the current leader of Space Needle, a combo that Parker has also joined), Varnaline gave one of the most thrilling performances I caught in Austin during the recent South by Southwest music conference. On record Parker crafts big, sleepy melodies burnished with a slight country twang. Amid the album's relatively lo-fi hiss, layers of guitar--both clean and distorted--and cheap chord-organ tones, Parker's earnest vocals consistently cut through, exuding a genuine ache typically lacking in such at-home affairs. On the other hand, while the album's raw qualities are endearing, they're also uneven. Thankfully, having a working band has allowed Parker to iron out the kinks. Ehrbar is a remarkable drummer--a flailing, loose-limbed rag doll who manages brilliantly to somehow keep everything together while Parker leans into his tunes as life support. Live Varnaline dole out an exuberant, surprisingly rich, ferocious crush of irresistible tunefulness. Loud, melodic rock doesn't connect like this very often. Scrawl headline. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.

PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joshua Kessler.

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