How does a landlocked Midwesterner enjoy a seaside vacation from the comfort of their quarantined home?
By listening to Lincoln indie-rock band Hail Varsity’s debut EP, “Keep Cool,” of course.
On Friday, March 27, Hail Varsity released five songs full of upbeat, fresh riffs that mimic a relaxed summer day. As the listener hums along to the perfect sunbathing title track “Keep Cool” and the powerful “Coat,” he or she can almost begin to smell the salty sea and hear the faint squawking of pelicans.
The band, comprised of Mari Crisler, Reed Tiwald, Colby Kresak and Liv Baxter, offers a laid-back attitude that feels smooth and breezy. This carefree sound is a stark contrast from the rougher tones of Death Cow, a garage-rock band of which both Tiwald and Crisler are also members.
However mellow the album feels, it seems Tiwald and Crisler haven’t forgotten their punk roots as the dreamy reverberation is broken up by distorted guitar sounds. The fluctuation is reminiscent of the ocean — usually serene, but sometimes launching into sudden turbulence.
From the intro of the EP’s first song, “Knee Pads,” the listener knows they are in for a smooth, unforgettable ride. The instrumentals are bright and playful, perfectly setting the tone for Crisler’s immaculate vocals. “Now I made it to the age I’ve always wanted to be; now I’m jealous of the kids that make the most of things,” Crisler sings. With Tiwald’s voice joining in the chorus, the pair sings an anthem of bravery amidst the unknowns of young adulthood. The two melodically chant, “Send me plummeting, but we keep the knee pads on/We aren’t afraid of skinned up knees.” The track is a cheerful breath of still summer air, and it may be the best of the album.
After the titular song “Keep Cool” is whisked away by a hearty breeze, the storm picks up and the sky turns gray. “Coat” crashes along the shore like a windswept beach umbrella. It isn’t a storm of Death Cow proportions, but it’s punk enough capture the attention of a more hardcore audience. Those unprepared for the drum thunderclaps of Kresak in “Coat” should probably take cover.
The exasperated vocals and robust riffs spread echo and fuzz throughout the song, appealing more to the rock side of Hail Varsity’s indie rock status. The lyrics aren’t as deep as the encouraging “Knee Pads,” but there is clearly a message here — Tiwald is angry at whoever took his coat, and he wants it back. To the parties responsible, we suggest you return Tiwald’s garment because “winter is here,” as the song says, and Hail Varsity is so livid about going out in the chilly temperature that the band let loose the most passionate instrumentation of its album.
Luckily, the storm settles down just in time for the listener to enjoy “Ride Around.” It might not be the ideal song for surfing, but it does seem like the perfect piece for cruising with the windows rolled down. The dreamiest track on the album, “Ride Around” is a display of talent from all members, with an impressive bassline followed by a beautiful backup vocal performance from Crisler.
And, most notably, Tiwald delivers a charming lead vocal performance that is endearing and mixed with feelings of nostalgia. Tiwald brings back the sounds of serenity to the EP with “Ride Around” — maybe he found his coat.
“Messy” concludes the album. It’s an easygoing melody with edgy moments that perfectly matches the rest of the EP. The song ends as it begins, with a haunting bass echoing as it plucks and fades.
In a time of uncertainty, the calmness and positivity of “Keep Cool” are sure to bring relief to those who listen. The world might feel like a stormy sea, but luckily, we brought our earbuds and a pair of knee pads.