The freedom and complexity of post-hardcore are what make it so special. Some bands are heavier, some are more melodic, and others enjoy instrumental chaos. Varsity are newbies to the genre, but their debut EP, Lights, doesn’t show it. Originating in Orlando, Florida, this powerful post-hardcore band takes the versatility of hardcore music and uses it to their advantage. They have all the basics down when it comes to making their sound stand out. Mixing brutal breakdowns, unique melodies, and intricate riffs, Varsity prove that they are already ahead of the game in the music scene.
The percussion intensity of Lights’ intro, “Enemy of State”, deceives listeners into thinking they are listening to your average hardcore scene band, but the originality of Varsity’s style comes up right behind you and knocks you off your feet. Vocalist Joey Varela blows listeners away with his constantly changing vocals patterns. A personal favorite of mine are the fast paced melodies Varela spits out before he dives back into the track’s smooth chorus. The vocals almost completely overshadow the slightly generic instrumentals underneath it. This isn’t even a true problem for Varsity however; the phenomenal vocal power and style increasingly develop as the EP continues.
“Monster” is completely surrounded by the catchy melodies in order to reach mainstream appeal, which is a smart way to convey a memorable first impression as a band. Even the lyrics are confessional and personal (“I’m a monster / I know it’s hard to believe / I just want somebody to love me”) to draw emotion and empathy from listeners. It’s not until the third track, “Alien”, that you start to indulge in the chaos of post-hardcore. Starting with light electronic effects, the mood is set with a futuristic tone, then dives headfirst into urgent breakdowns. Once again, the vocal melodies are utterly addicting. The consistency of Varsity’s skills in this category are really rare to see on a debut EP, making their emergence into this music scene so important. Varela hops from fast and slow tempos and low and high notes effortlessly and intertwines them with Yasmin Colon’s stunning guest vocals while the chugging beat sends chills down listeners’ spines.
Although their instrumentals can heighten the vocal power, it sometimes dulls the clear potential they have. “Lights” does a little bit of both, oddly. The verse riffs are full of sharp and distinct guitar that has touches of Dance Gavin Dance and gives the track personal flare to keep the listeners engaged. Yet at the same time, the band drags the intricacy of the track down with unnecessary breakdowns. Although when played live, these elements can get a crowd rowdy, Varsity obviously have enough tricks up their sleeves to come up with something more diverse.
As listeners reach the song “Happy”, Varsity show off their versatility again. This structured track is filled with major chords and uplifting instrumentals. However, Varsity speaks to the audience about feeling vulnerable to the world (“Everyone I know is out to get me”), but then reaches out to the listener with encouraging words (“You deserve to be happy”). There is no denying that the hooks are unbelievably strong, but the poppy sense to this track is a tad out of place on the album, especially when the awkward rapping vocals kick in. This briefly shows up on “Enemy of State” as well, but I can forgive them for all the strong aspects that overshadow it on the EP.
Varsity closes things out with “Sentinel”, the breakdown heavy track that ends Lights with a bang. The vocals quickly go from heartfelt to haunting as their niche of speedy vocals adds a solid groove to the song. It’s only a moment on the track before Varela goes back to a more consistent rhythm, but worth every second. When vocalist Michael Crimlis contributes, the chilling tone is brought to a massive ending that solidifies the wonderful skill set of Varsity.
Varsity pushes the lines of post-hardcore with Lights and it is only their debut EP. Even the minor setbacks were brave risks to take and the parts that need development have plenty of time to be fixed. The most important part is that this first impression of Varsity is not only distinct, but also fairly unique to the familiar styles in their genre. After all the quality and versatility that they present in their first EP, Varsity is certainly the band to keep an eye on in the future.