It seems odd to discuss music right now, or anything other than the amoeba-sized elephant in the room for that matter, but really the timing couldn’t be more perfect. In this period of massive uncertainty, where the world has essentially stopped spinning, art is leading the charge through the troubling days. I’m especially reminded of this sentiment with Keep Cool, the debut EP from Lincoln, Nebraska’s Hail Varsity. It’s a shorter project, just five songs deep, but the group certainly makes a profound impression. Keep Cool is just the type of music we need right now, with up-tempo jams reminiscent of The Vaccines, Wallows, and even a little Simple Plan or Blink 182 at the punk end of the EP’s spectrum. On their debut, Hail Varsity delivers a bright pop-rock sound and crafty lyricism, the sharp instrumentation backing smart statements that encapsulate the adolescent experience.
Contrary to its name, the energy across Keep Cool is consistently through the roof. Starting with the first beat of “Knee Pads” and never letting up until “Messy” fades out, the EP is electric, with acute guitar hooks and cymbal-heavy percussion driving every track. The underlying elements are equally interesting: bass lines that are constantly moving and floating synthesizer chords that round out a full and supported sound. Power chords are a near-constant presence in the pre-choruses, providing an exciting build-up to explosive choruses that overflow with passion and power. These high points are standouts, to be sure, but Hail Varsity displays impressive versatility in the verses and bridges. They take a more laid-back approach in these sections, letting the lyrics breathe or settling into a nice mid-tempo groove that brings a fresh contrast to the soaring choruses. The mellow verses and smooth bridge of the title track are perhaps the strongest examples of these juxtaposing elements. Each component offers distinction from the others, but all ultimately punctuate a chorus that urges us to jump around and sing along. It’s so clear how much fun these guys are having in making music, which only adds to the fun in listening to it.
Lyrically, Keep Cool is the personification of every young adult’s internal monologue. The group wrestles with conflicting ideas about the world around them, bouncing back and forth between optimistic and apathetic, confident and confused. “But we got the bumpers on, got a sense of security,” they insist on the chorus of “Kneepads,” only to admit that “it’s all downhill from here” in the bridge a few moments later. On paper, the statements are completely contradictory, but it’s a safe bet to assume that any young adult will confirm their coexistence. Yes, the proverbial future is bright, but there’s a sense of dread that accompanies the idea of a future in general. The prospect of failure, the lingering what-ifs: they all confront us when we consider the concept of simply growing up. The title track contemplates the notion of conflict as well, pairing disillusionment with hopeful determination. It encompasses the struggle between indifference and idealism in the standard young-adult world view one minute proclaiming “I’ve become less intrigued with the way things are trying to be” and confessing “I want to believe in something greater than me” the next. It shouldn’t make sense, and yet we all nod along. Hail Varsity sounds like they stole your journal, accurately capturing the resounding thoughts, hopes, fears, and experiences of their peers. They even dedicated an entire song to the concept of the boyfriend hoodie, a staple of teenage/twenty-something romance. In terms of authenticity, Keep Cool is spot-on, boasting lyrics that are sure to resonate with the generation that Hail Varsity represents.
In this time of physical separation, it’s tough to feel any form of connection. Luckily, Keep Cool, and other projects like it, offer exactly that. I write this from my bedroom in St. Augustine, all the way across the country from Hail Varsity’s Nebraska, yet I still feel a sense of togetherness from their music. The EP practically begs to be played live, turning out the kinds of tracks that are perfect for a packed venue with a high-energy crowd. What’s even more intimate are the lyrics, presenting endless relatability a sense of solidarity. Keep Cool is a fun and fresh debut, and even though the idea of the future seems scary to Hail Varsity, theirs is certainly very promising. This kind of music, from the smaller bands from all over, is what we should be supporting and streaming right now. The belonging and connection it brings is what will see us through to the day when we’re able to congregate for concerts again. I can only hope that Hail Varsity makes the trip down to Florida and supplements the idea of musical togetherness with physical proximity. In the meantime, the solace from Keep Cool’s engaging and energetic essence will more than suffice.
Check out Hail Varsity on Apple Music and Spotify below!
Thank you to Hail Varsity for the advance listen of the EP! Keep Cool in these harsh times!
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