Album Review: Will Varley – Postcards from Ursa Minor

Published On October 26, 2015 | By Michael Smith | Albums, Music

There really is something special about Will Varley. While he’s always been an artist of high quality, it’s on Postcards from Ursa Minor that his talent truly shines through. From the stories he tells to the deceptively simple arrangements he showcases, there’s so much that he gets right on this album that it isn’t even funny. It’s an hour long acoustic fare full of wit, commentary and top notch storytelling that will enthrall you all the way through.

Will Varley Postcards from Ursa MinorIts level of diversity in sound is yet another of the album’s major talking points. As for My Soul starts the album as if leading into a lament, singing about the collapse of the world and the inevitability of death, before leading into a rousing pirate drinking song, down to the rhythmic stabs of a fiddle, the synced clapping and the rough vocalising that occurs near the middle eight. Five tracks later, Talking Cat Blues carries itself with nothing but the strumming of a guitar as Varley sings about the negligible perils of modern life, the world’s obsession with cat videos and the inevitability of atomic warfare, all within four minutes: Probably the album’s most open attempt at something witty and humorous, and one of its most unusually compelling tracks.

But it’s when he follows Talking Cat Blues up with a song like From Halcyon that the album’s strength becomes apparent; following up such a satirical track with something as wistful, nostalgic and sincere as From Halcyon feels like it shouldn’t work in the context of an album, but works perfectly here thanks to the minimal scope of instrumentation, allowing them to flow seamlessly together. Even as he begins singing about serious politics and war in Concept of Freedom and instantly moves to the concept of foreign life in the universe and a plea to them as humans continue ruining the earth on Is Anyone Out There?, the serious topics he covers mesh perfectly with the witty, tongue in cheek lyrics of the songs that follow.

As previously mentioned, his storytelling skills here are also top notch, with Talking Cat Blues being but one example: Outside Over There recounts the story of a war as the song’s main subject attempts to find her kidnapped sister, as if it were a fairy tale in the form of song, and his raspy voice is perfect for carrying both these styles of songs and the rest that the album has to offer. By the time the album ends on the fleeting and suddenly ending The Question of Passing Time, it almost feels like the album ended too soon. Despite its satisfying length, the album manages to leave you wanting more.

From its modern commentary to its adept storytelling, there’s a lot to love about the album. It’s one of the most deceptively simple albums of the year, and yet also one of the most compelling. Will Varley has absolutely outdone himself with Postcards from Ursa Minor, and has shown just how truly remarkable his talents are. Even if an acoustic album isn’t an appealing idea to you, the storytelling on the album more than makes it a worthwhile experience. You don’t want to miss out on this one.

5 / 5 stars     

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