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Album Review: “The Parts I Dread” by Pictoria Vark

Park’s album contains eight songs written during her time at Grinnell. Image contributed by Victoria Park.

As a first year at Grinnell, Victoria Park `21 performed her first two original songs at a Tiny Dorm concert. Six years later, she’s playing bass guitar on tour with the alt-rock band Pinkshift, signed with Get Better Records in 2021, and released her debut indie-rock album “The Parts I Dread” under the name “Pictoria Vark” on April 8, 2022.  

Music has long been central to Park’s life. She started playing the piano at four, guitar at nine and took on bass as her primary instrument at 11, but her songwriting began in earnest during her time at Grinnell.  

“I had been interested in writing songs, but was getting really frustrated with it,” said Park. After writing her first song at Grinnell, her discography began to expand, much of which is contained in “The Parts I Dread,” an eight-song album featuring songs written during her years at Grinnell.  

When developing a song, Park separately develops lyrics and bass parts before experimenting with different combinations, integrating melodies and “tweaking little things structurally or in the progression to make it all fit.” Artistically, Park counts the band Steel Mill and singer-songwriters Cat Power and Nick Drake as creative influences in the development and production of “The Parts I Dread.” 

As a genre, indie rock doesn’t necessarily have a “cohesive sound,” said Park. In “The Parts I Dread,” Park embraces the diversity offered by the genre’s fluidity. While songs like “Out” and “I Can’t Bike” crackle with electricity, those in the league of “Friend Song” and “Twin” are understated and reflective.  

Such multiformity never puts the songs at odds with one another. Rather, the twin throughlines of mesmeric bass lines and ethereal vocals bundles the album beautifully into a cohesive exploration of how we build, leave, and remember home.  

Thematically, “The Parts I Dread” explores the fluid notion of home, whether defined by place, family or friends. “Wyoming” centers the challenges of carving out space for yourself in a new place ostensibly called home, channeling Park’s experience in the titular state as a young adult.  

Over the crashes of an electric guitar, the song pleas “Can’t I blame you for everything / market crashes, mood swings.” Park delivers the lines with a sense of resignation, encapsulating the challenges of navigating the bizarre liminal space of young adulthood, full of uncertainties around identity, agency and belonging.  

Addressing the challenges of leaving home in “Demarest,” named for a town in Park’s home state of New Jersey, the artist both acknowledges a familiar and challenging truth while preserving a sense of hope for the future, even if it is still unclear. “I’m scared of change and I’m cognizant / There’s more to be than in Demarest / More to live for than I know yet.”  

Here, Park’s delicate vocals are grounded by both the steady bassline and the support of the band’s guitar and drums, which stand constant even as home fades into the distance, reminding listeners that “home” is not merely constituted by a place, but heavily influenced by relationships that endure beyond arbitrary geographical boundaries.  

“If I had one message, it’s that even if you don’t know where home is or home doesn’t feel like a real place, it can be wherever and whoever you want it to be,” said Park.  

Reflecting on the themes of her album, Park said that she hopes listeners will “take what they need from it.” With its powerful songs, engaging production and captivating motifs, there is much for us to cultivate.  

“The Parts I Dread” was released on April 8 and is available for order on Bandcamp. It can also be accessed on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and Deezer. In July, Pictoria Vark will be playing the 80/35 music festival in downtown Des Moines.  

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