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In this season of gratitude, we get an EP from one of the most grateful artists making music, Otan Vargas.  This NYC artist recently vowed via Facebook to “work hard and save enough money, so I can tour from east coast to west coast and even out of the country.”  He made this public promise not to expand his music exposure or increase merchandise sales.  Call it instead a gratitude tour – “Then I can finally thank each one of you in person,” said Vargas to his fans.

Until that personal thank you, we’ll accept a few new tracks from Vargas’ lastest release, ‘Selected Sorrow’ due November 24th.  Known mostly for his acoustic grunge music with debuted in his 2009 ‘Alone’ album, Vargas takes on a heavier edge with the inclusion of electric guitar and drums, played by Dom Barranco.  The EP was recorded and mixed by Steve K at Rogue Studios in Long Island, NY.

‘Selected Sorrow’ is a collection of songs which consider why things in the world are often so askew – how they might have gone wrong, and how we can make them better.  “Maybe I” presents a challenge: “Can you change the way I’m living?”  The steady punch of the instruments makes the personal restlessness more pronounced.  Ultimately, Vargas realizes that perhaps the power for change has been in his hands all along.  Rather than searching for someone to blame, he reflects on his own actions, admitting that he might have made a better effort – “Maybe I didn’t try to believe in me.”

Certainly we can choose our own paths in life by committing to healthy habits and positive attitude.  Yet sometimes life throws tragedies our way which are completely beyond our control.  Much like the petition of the Serenity Prayer, we can only ask to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. This is addressed in “Under the Rain,” a song Vargas released as a single shortly after his local area was hit by the October devastation of Hurricane Sandy.  The chorus is powerful with the blast of alt grunge guitar accompanying the line, “So I open the windows in pain, and leave all the things I can’t change.” 

A slow wandering takes place in the simplistic opening of “Hollow Destination.”  The drums play in military march, as if for a soldier who has lost his purpose for battle.  “Oh where do I go from this?” Vargas asks.  The pace trudges along in despair, with Vargas saying, “I’m hoping for a light.”  The pulsing darkness hints at an Alice in Chains influence.

Otan Vargas completes ‘Selected Sorrow’ by returning to his acoustic guitar in “The Truth in You,” an aching tale of what once was.  The lonesome plucking of guitar strings accentuates the solitude stated in the lines, “I close my eyes and face the memories.”  Those images are beautiful and good, yet the heartbreak of the present status proves too much.  “I can’t accept this all must end, I have to leave.  I don’t see the truth in you anymore.” 

If grunge rock is defined by self-deprecation and bitterness, Otan sincerely delves into this while rising again to grasp a positive tone.  In the end, he brushes off the dust while extracting the gem:  “I will still remember you the way we were before.”

Rating: 5/5