Momentum is a cherished quality in the world of music. It's what led hype-monster and Internet meme Lana Del Ray to a notably uncomfortable, Brian Williams-baiting performance on Saturday Night Live with only three songs to her lazily made-up name. It's what caused Radiohead to slam on the brakes and reinvent their sound, effectively creating a massively smaller but exponentially more devoted audience. It's what Tacoma's the Variety Hour has lacked over the past year, as the band has taken what more or less amounted to a hiatus, wherein they regrouped, recast, and recorded a follow-up to their eponymous debut EP.
"(Bassist Ryan Dustan) decided to part ways, and we started Transmissive, our new EP," says guitarist Rob Olsen. "We recorded that, and had Jeff Southard from Swoon Records mix it for us, and we were super psyched. It was kind of a manic-depressive recording studio, because we were ecstatic about the recording and the songs, but we were a little bit despairing about the possibility of not having a bass player to play this stuff live. But good fortune came our way, and we have a new bass player named Bryan Michael, and we're ready to get back in action. Aside from a show a couple months ago at The New Frontier, we've basically fallen off the face of the music scene for a year. ... We're hoping to build from a perpetually under-the-radar band to a band that plays more frequently, and hopefully provides some tunes that people like."
As I noted back in those early, heady days of 2010, the Variety Hour is largely indebted to the sounds of shoegaze and Britpop. Bands like Swervedriver and Teenage Fanclub live in the Variety Hour's blood. Listening to Transmissive, though, it's clear the Variety Hour has doubled down its focus and drive, creating a much more direct and even record. While some of the variety, so to speak, of the band's first EP might be missed, Variety Hour's latest release has a verve and clarity of intent that leads to a more rewarding listen, top to bottom (as opposed to the picking and choosing that might have gone on in the listening of the first album).
"The first album was kind of a mixed bag of ideas and riffs that have a common denominator, but it was a little bit looser," says Olsen. "Are we an indie pop band, or are we a moody, British-inspired band? The songs probably went a little bit too far in one direction or another, but I think we found our center, which is probably more of a bent-out-of-whack rock song with overt pop melodies. I like telling people that we sound like Cheap Trick on cough medicine, which I think is a fairly apt description."
Regardless of any implied presence of Coricidin Cough & Cold, the Variety Hour has definitely solidified its sound with the release of Transmissive: pop melodies overlaid with a grungy guitar exoskeleton. It's eminently ‘90s-inspired, even as it leans forward for whatever the future may hold next for the Variety Hour.
The Variety Hour CD release show
with the Dignitaries, Deathtrap America, Sources in Code
Friday, Feb. 10, 9 p.m., $5
Hell's Kitchen, 928 Pacific Ave., Tacoma