A rustic acoustic guitar strums to life and wanders down a dark, ominous path of minor key swing as we enter “This Time Around,” one of two new songs that Dave Vargo is releasing ahead of his brand new sophomore LP, which is due out later this year. Vargo’s vocals come sliding into focus at an angle, against the grain of the strings, but he doesn’t interrupt the flow of the rhythm, which is startlingly rigid beside the contrasting swing of the drums. The percussion nudges us along and into the progressive bend of the bass, which is intent on getting the other instrumentation in a chokehold by the time we reach the halfway point in the track. There’s a million things going on at once, but Dave Vargo continues to croon unflinchingly.

His voice sinks into the springy reverb that accents the electric guitar, and while the drums are fine with their black and white plaintiveness, the bass isn’t comfortable staying where it’s at. It fights, harder than most would, to get into the forefront of the master mix, but nothing is getting past Vargo’s soft serenading, which on its own makes this single one of the more exquisitely stylized folk anthems of the New Year. Following a somber breakdown, we fall right back into an electrified jug band jam that is impossible to resist when you’re playing the song at the right volume, and while “This Time Around” is a rollicking ballad devoid of a scooped heavy metal EQ, its physicality will leave you feeling shaken nonetheless, as if you’d just come from a lively stage show.

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/djvargo/sets/pre-release

Shiny power chords mark our foray into “Battle Burns” with a jangling hook that is awfully hard to forget once you’ve heard it at least once, but don’t start thinking that this song is going to be any more streamlined than its companion is. The effervescent grooves slowly but surely blossom into a lush country rock tune played out at half-speed as to amplify the richness of its tonality. Subsequently, Vargo is able to weave an intricate melodicism into the bones of the track that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. You could call the concept ingenious, and you’d be right, but what Dave Vargo does in both of these songs goes beyond studio creativity altogether.

No matter what sort of folk-rock turns you on the most, the new album that Vargo has been hammering out in the studio lately promises to be one of the hottest releases of 2019, and if we’re to go off of what we find in these two awesome teaser tracks, there should be no questions remaining as to whether or not his second album will surpass the tremendous quality of his first. We’re living in one of the most competitive and cutthroat periods in the history of pop music (not to mention one of the most overcrowded talent pools since the dawn of the recording age). The fact that Dave Vargo sticks out as much as he does with this organic, simplistic variety of acoustic music speaks volumes about his skill and the remarkable gifts that he brings to the table.

Sebastian Cole