You will undoubtedly know Rosie Varela from her outstanding band Eep. Now she has stepped into the spotlight with her solo album What Remains. A native of El Paso, Texas she has drawn on the musicality and creativity of her band mates and friends to help her realise her vison. Joining her are Ross Ingram, Sebastian Estrada, Serge Carrasco, and Lawrence Brown III from EEP with the addition of Aldo Portillo on guitar and keys.
About the process of creating the songs for What Remains Varela has this to say.
“These are songs that didn’t quite fit the shoegaze genre of EEP and in fact, they weren’t meant to be genre-specific at all. This is a fusion not just of musical influences, but of life experiences.
At its core, The Project is about simplicity – simple song structures that leave room for free studio experimentation and innovation.”
Knowing the calibre of this team’s song writing makes me eager to dive in, so let’s do that now.
We open on the gentle sway to and fro of ‘Louise’. The tender musical backing belying the dark subject matter of a sabotaged relationship. Straight away we are hearing a band at play. Living in the creative moment. The textures and sounds effects around this song are there because the creators understand that sound affects. Everything has a place and purpose.
We segue neatly into ‘Wound’, a heartfelt cry from an America on fire. The rise of the divisive right, the splintering of society, racial abuse, school shootings. This is a deeply affecting song. You can feel the helplessness in Varela’s delivery. The band do a wonderful job of giving that feeling room to express itself in the song. Of ‘Wound’ Varela says
“This is a song about someone who feels helpless, crying out for a miracle to change the fear, and hatred that the narrator is witnessing and experiencing within themselves as they spiral downwards emotionally. The last two lines offer hope as the narrator comes to grips with saving themselves by saying, “give me your hand, I think I can pull you out again.”
‘Night Sky’ blooms on the speakers next. Like a beautiful flower it slowly unfurls and shows us its gorgeous multi-coloured, multi textured form. There are songs you instantly connect with and for me ‘Night Sky’ is one of those songs. We’ve all gazed up at the starry sky in awe and pondered our place in the cosmos. This song perfectly captures that feeling. From the stunning call and response of the verses to the overlapping vocals in the latter sections of the track. We are transported.
Next is the deeply harrowing lyric of ‘What Remains’. This song, the intensely personal exorcism of the emotional damage from childhood sexual abuse, is profoundly moving. You cannot help but feel the hurt and despair of the child. That then turns to rage as you know you cannot help them. The song is quite a sparse arrangement allowing Varela’s vocal performance to deliver the emotional punch that floors you every time. Full credit to the band for their parts here, particularly Brown’s wonderfully beguiling drums.
The sound of the desert is all over ‘Leave Me Alone’. Like a lost Eagles or America track it brings to mind a woman walking out of the desert of a bad relationship into the sun. Again, this genius band take the simplest of structures and add in textures and lovely harmony singing to elevate it to something really quite beautiful.
‘Fault Line’ comes in like a Bond theme. Incredibly cinematic and boy does it get widescreen in scope. This track has a Beatles level recording story involving reverse tracking, learning to play the song backwards and of course, mellotron strings. The song is about being able to spot the red flags around toxic people (mainly men). It’s sung with a steely determination and you can sense this comes from lived experience. As the song heads into its final stretch, it explodes into bloom. Full on psychedelia follows with reverse guitars and Beatle-esque strings like Strawberry Fields Forever. These aren’t the sounds we’re used to hearing from Varela but she owns it. The creativity and sonic dexterity on display could only have come from her heart and head.
‘My Sunshine’ tries to fool us with its subdued, melodic intro. As the vocals kick in, we hit the accelerator and we’re off. There are some glorious musical flourishes on show here. From the various synth tones to the western influenced guitars. It all comes together beautifully to lift the song all the way to the conversation style outro. You just never know what’s coming next and that’s a major strength of this band.
There are so many points on the album where you can identify with the lyrics. None more so I’m sure, than on ‘Foolish Things’.
“He came to me. A wolf in wolf’s clothing. But I couldn’t see. I was naïve. And love makes you do. Foolish things”
Of the song Varela says
The song has a woozy, off kilter theme throughout putting you straight into the writer’s head space. This is a where superb songwriting meets an arranger who knows exactly how to extract the most emotion from each and every note.
The album closes out with the meditative ‘Surrender’. This improvised piece, set against a series of loops and bass, feels like the warm embrace of goodbye, for now. Certainly not final but the closing of a chapter. It’s the perfect end to this album.
An album of songs this definitely is. You may enjoy dipping in and out to savour your favourite tracks however, if you will accept my counsel, this is an album made to be listened start to finish. It’s an experience and one that rewards repeat listens. Varela bares her soul to us, trusting the listener with her very heart. In doing so she allows us to join her and her band mates, collaborators and friends on a journey of self-discovery. I wonder what you’ll find.
What Remains is released via Hogar Records on 3rd June. You can grab a copy on 180g translucent red vinyl, CD and digital. Head over to Bandcamp or, if you’re in the UK you can grab a physical copy from Plastic Head Megastore.
Follow The Rosie Varela Project here…