Kue Varo & The Only Hopes 
Cowboy Witchcraft 

Self-released • 2023

Cowboy Witchcraft from Kue Varo & The Only Hopes defies categorization but settles somewhere between alternative country and psychedelic folk rock, whispering one moment and yee-haw-ing the next.

Laden with twang and reckless abandon, Cowboy Witchcraft from Kue Varo & The Only Hopes kicks up and settles like a dust devil. The record defies categorization but settles somewhere between alternative country and psychedelic folk rock, whispering one moment and yee-haw-ing the next.

Cowboy Witchcraft conjures images of driving a convertible through the desert, lighting candles and doing spells in the night, and sipping whiskey in a smoke-filled saloon. Frontperson Kat Spreen’s charmingly aloof slacker rockstar delivery is dry and subversive, offset by the dark spiritual themes behind the lyrics.

“Just to feel a little bit inspired, I set the living room on fire / With all the pretty little trinkets I dress the walls and the sink in / Just to feel something I wasn’t feeling in your arms,” wails Spreen on the opening track, “Furthest Place.”

There’s an element of larger-than-life performance to the project — but also a pervading sense of vulnerability. Its eerie, close-to-your-ear opener and dreamy second track burn slowly before bursting into rip-roaring “Just Don’t Care” and “Yip Yip.” 

“I spill my coffee on the floor, and I think I’ll leave it there / What if I just don’t care?” Spreen cries on “Just Don’t Care,” backed by a ripping harmonica and honky-tonk guitars. On “Yip Yip,” they channel their confident cowboy, crooning, “Giddy up, and won’t you ride off with me?” These two standouts are breezy and irreverent, making for a boot-stomping, hooting-and-hollering, raucous good time. 

As it unfolds, the tracklist jumps from tender love songs (“Sweet One”) to witchy, ominous compositions that creep forward menacingly (“Gates of Hell”) and sun-soaked, surfy indie bops (“Feelin’ Lucky”), shedding light on the band’s range and versatility.

The common thread uniting sounds and themes on the album is Spreen’s power in all its spiritual, dark, feminine, queer glory. The vocalist’s gender fluidity comes through in the spontaneity of their tone, shifting from a punk bad-boy attitude to a more romantic, ethereal spirit and occupying myriad states in between. It’s entrancing, beautiful, and refreshingly straightforward.

With their past work, Kue Varo & The Only Hopes have taken a decidedly intellectual approach, pulling inspiration from novelists like Kurt Vonnegut and basing part of their name on a surrealist painter. With Cowboy Witchcraft, they let loose and revel in the liberation. It springs from a well of authenticity, presence, and the desire to focus on the beautiful parts of being alive as if with this release, the band decided to dress up and throw a party for themselves and their audience.

This album is revelatory and one-of-a-kind. Its production is atmospheric and transcendent, and the band is ahead of the curve regarding their thoughtfulness and style. As far as recent Canadian releases go, it’s an instant classic that is well worth playing for music nerds, far and wide.

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