Tim Larson, the Chicago singer-songwriter and creator of Vargar, appears to come from the school of grim, ennui-laced vocals and subject matter. His voice is deep and dramatically melancholy, staking a middle ground between Nick Cave and Matt Berninger of The National. On Vargar, his second solo release, Larson presents eight tracks that have a ‘90s grunge feel to them and possibly commit a bit too firmly to this style. Larson certainly has the skill to pull it off: his voice is throaty and genuine, his arrangements are clean. The pitfall comes with a lack of diversity. Aside from a couple exceptions, the songs feel interchangeable and foggy as a whole.
Things lighten up a bit later in the album with ‒ ironically ‒ “I Follow Death,” a track that gives the listener some breathing room through playful guitar and a more percussive sound. Its effectiveness ‒ derived largely from its role as a departure from the overriding aesthetic of the album ‒ can’t help but make the listener long for more variation over the course of these eight tracks. Larson is technically adept and his music feels sincere, yet nothing elevates it from its restrictive, at-times-one-dimensional genre trappings. It’s plodding nature is the same thing that can derail The National’s albums at times. The difference is that the songwriting fails to provide anything that’s too thematically interesting or adds anything to the terrain Larson is clearly working with. Darkness can be effective, but its contrast against lighter elements is many times responsible for its effect. Next time Larson may want to let in a bit more light.