We’ve all been beaten down to the ground, wondering “am I going to get up this time?” The music industry tends to do the same to the artists who dare to stand toe to toe with it, eating a good portion of the bands alive. However, there are those musicians who push back, refusing to take “no” for an answer and unwavering to the onslaught has coming for them. Take NYC’s VRSTY for example: beginning as a solo project by mastermind/vocalist, Joey Varela, they have grown into a force to be reckoned with. Having now released 5 EPs (2015-2023) and a full-length album (2021’s Welcome Home) on their new label home, Spinefarm Records, they are ready to show the world what’s next. While Welcome Home and the subsequent 3 EPs to follow were all written/recorded in studio, Varela decided to take it back to his roots for the release of their sophomore effort, Levitate. Appropriately-titled, this album shows a new side of the band, both in terms of Varela’s vulnerability within his lyrics and the evolution they continue to undergo.
“The Plug” was the first offering to explore this new sound, which is bigger and bolder than any of their previous efforts. This track, for example, relies more heavily on the atmosphere created by the guitar melodies and Varela’s introspective lyrical content. If there’s one thing that this band is good at, though, it’s creating perfect hooks that seem out of pocket but beautifully build their corresponding choruses. Inspired by artists like Dayseeker, Sleep Token, Holding Absence, etc, Varela’s smooth, R&B style vocal overlays electronics and build to heavy drum beats. Funk-driven guitar parts build the pre-chorus before taking flight in both the chorus and bridge. Varela’s use of vocal runs is another great example of how the band differs from others. This is showcased even better in a live setting, as he has a tendency to create melody where he feels it is needed. While fairly simple and straightforward, both bassist Javy Dorrejo and guitarist Paul Gregory’s instrumentals here are worth diving back into, post-first listen through. “Black & Blue” might be one of my favorite “surprise” type tracks, as it lures you into a sense of false security, melodic and slow at first. However, the track continues to build dark atmosphere before both Varela and guest vocalist Tanya Elizabeth (Monochromatic Black) showcase some brutal, lower-end screams which pair nicely with Dorrejo’s signature scream style. One of the heaviest moments on the album, lyrically, comes in the form of “Glad You Came.” While each track provides a first-hand look into Varela’s head, this track in particular doesn’t hold back any punches. Dealing with subjects such as suicidal ideation, substance abuse and self-doubt, this track has a very upbeat vibe despite its heavy subject matter.
Another thing that Varela tends to shy away from is co-writes, unless they make complete sense to the material he’s writing. Enter “Powerless,” which was co-written and features pop powerhouse, LEXXE. A labor of the deep relationship that the two artists share, this track will hit listeners hard, emotionally. However, it offers a positive message that reminds everyone that no one can take your power away from you, no matter how deep you feel you’ve fallen. The remaining three tracks are some of the strongest on the album. “Can You Love Me” is a build-and-break, slower-paced track that deals with the subject of forbidden love, with Varela pining over someone who he knows he shouldn’t pursue but can’t help having fallen in love with. “The Feeling” is an emotional banger, continuing the same lyrical theme as its predecessor. While there are a lot of moments where a soaring vocal is needed to convey a chorus properly, there are those rare moments (such as this one) that create a wonderful contrast. “Levitate” contains one of my favorite lyrical sections that I’ve heard from the band. This is that one track, as we’ve come to love, from VRSTY that provides that cocky, explosive vocal and creates an amazing end to the album. “A diamond under pressure, I reverberate. I can show you how to transcend, how to levitate!” This is a track aimed at those who doubt the band and a call to arms for those who feel they need to push back, to get to where they need to be.
Levitate is a transcendent, yet visceral experience that will leave you begging for more. The title wasn’t simply just another word, it’s a testament to where the band has come and where they’re headed. Festival appearances, tours with Monuments, Dropout Kings and Nonpoint and much more has been solidified by this “IDGAF” attitude and refusal to bend to anyone’s will but their own. While the industry continues to push back against them, they’ve shown that they are indeed diamonds under pressure and nothing will stop the momentum that they’ve gained in the process. Pick up your copy of Levitate on Spinefarm Records this Friday and drop a follow on their social media! Videos for “Glad You Came”, “The Plug” and “Fuck You Forever” can be viewed below, as well as visualizers for “The Way It Is” and “Kill the Rich (ft. Andy Cizek)”
Pre-Orders/Merch Bundles for Levitate can be found here