Viarosa are a many headed-acoustic beast dwelling on the fringes of Americana music, hankering after the next disaster in a twilight world of acoustic gothic charms, where the American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare. Spooked you should be, on paper at least, however in the flesh they are more like your uncle trying to be creepy, but you just wish he’d shut up and get drunk and rowdy.
Based around the nucleus of former Brit-popper Richard Neuberg, fellow songwriter Emma Seal and Willard Grant Conspiracy member Josh Hillman, Viarosa are a thrilling combination taken singly, but less so when joining forces.
Opener Blindfold sets the blueprint for misery, as it stalks a woozy path between a more menacing Americana Waterboys, and a less grim Nick Cave, or indeed a wannabe Willard Grant Conspiracy. Stark acoustic instrumentation is the order of the day, with a prowling violin hovering like a bird of prey over the carcass of skinny-ribbed guitars and shagged-out voices rising like steam from hot earth.
These inner-searching claustrophobic dramas unfold their tales under darkened skies bristling with thunder yet to come. And that’s the problem. There’s only so much brooding you can do (without letting rip) before it turns to boredom.
Fellow explorers of front porch folk, Iron and Wine do this stuff with the elegance of a sugary pill to lessen the impact, cloaking tales of deceit and heartbreak with sweet harmony and an understated sense of drama, knowing that strong words are better spoken softly.
For the most part these tunes roll by on a similar strum and drone of acoustic earnestness yearning for some depth but mostly finding unremarkable tedium. Title track Where The Killers Run positively aches to explodes in some violin-frenzy like a demented Tindersticks. Only on the positively skipping All This Worry (Will Be Over Soon) with Emma Seal on vocal duties does this album leap away from the glum-faced navel examinations. Instrumental, The Violet Hour summons up some spark of intrigue by virtue of the lack of vocals to muddy the mix.
Therein lies the problem, with the glummer than thou vocals of Robert Neuberg they have a frontman to rival Nytol for insomnia qualities. Finally on closer Wake do Viarosa seem to have found their ground with the instrumentation complementing the vocals in a wholesomely satisfying way that is neither affected or copyist.
So if pseudo-gothic folk is yer bag, you’ll be laughing… OK, you won’t, but for the rest of us mortals this is merely an average album looking for an identity and a voice. You could do worse than give it a home for a while, but not so long as to let it get its grubby feet under your rug.