Published May 02, 2019For the past several years, Varg has been outputting a consistent stream of atmospheric techno epics on labels like Posh Isolation, Semantica, and primarily, Northern Electronics. However, to pigeonhole Varg's music as simply "techno" would be doing the Swedish artist a disservice — he seems content to play to the beat of his own drum.
Above all else, Jonas Rönnberg doesn't really seem to be concerned with other people's opinions of his music. How many techno artists can say that they've collaborated on a techno-trap hybrid composition with Yung Lean? Now, he returns to Northern Electronics with a pair of new EPs.
The two records represent an entirely different aspect of Varg's sound. The first, Sky City: Even in the Heart of Heaven, Angels Can Still Feel Fear, with its blue cover art, represents the moodier, more introspective side to Varg's music. The second, Sky City: A Weak Heart to Break (Spit), emblazoned in red, is markedly different. Upping the ante (and the tempo), this record shows the steelier and more dissonant side to Varg's compositions.
The pads in "Cyclone (Even in the Heart of Heaven, Angels Can Still Feel Fear)" are a cherubic introduction to the first of the two. Contrastingly, though, they conjugate a broken beat kick drum bordering on the edge of stridence that reminds us that Rönnberg is always focused on the dance floor. "Crush the System / Soak.Create_Soak_Party_Situation" is classic Varg, with one of the most satisfying melodies he's created in years. Replete with the shimmering and shuddering percussion that he's known for, the track accomplishes techno grandeur to great effect.
"Death.Toggle / CheatingIntensityBuff_Fearless ft. Fatal & Chatline" is the slight misstep of the first portion, with the trance-leaning chord stabs falling slightly afield amongst the rest of the EP. Fortunately, the voltaic sonics in "Green Flames Covering the Winter Sky (Västerbotten)" get things back on track admirably, giving the strongest glimpse yet into Varg's knack for acoustic trickery.
Things do take an interesting turn for the second record, beginning with "A Weak Heart to Break (BD 4-Ever)." It suffers some of the same issues that afflicted "Death.Toggle," where the clear odes to trance music fit somewhat awkwardly amidst Rönnberg's sonic palette. Fortunately, that's quickly forgotten in "The Fallen Star Was Just a Man / Buff_Depressed," which is menacing and gruff in the best way possible: the normally serene approach to ambience now fantastically overdriven.
"This Wretched Light ft. Patrick Quick" is a curious affair, beginning expectedly forebodingly but devolving into a synthetic spoken-word segment that somewhat overstays its welcome. The female-sounding voice recounts an existential crisis brought about from intoxication in a sort of dystopic ominousness with a sense of prophetic ambiguity. It isn't heard from again when the kick drum returns amidst the growing synthetic shrills and white noise. Sinister, by all accounts.
"Spit! / CheatingIntensityBuff_Passionate (Motherlode)" isn't quite Q-dance, but it perhaps resembles Varg's imagining of dance music at the more hardcore end of things. Sonically serene, the quickened overdriven kick drum that trips over itself from time to time is the defining characteristic.
If anything, the two EPs are strong examples as to Jonas Rönnberg's willingness to experiment with what is sonically acceptable within the extraordinarily fickle world of techno. There are some problems with consistency across the two, but to label them as deal-breakers would be a disservice. The subversion of listener expectations should always be appreciated, and Varg certainly does that here. (Northern Electronics)