What once seemed like it would be an interesting historical blip has turned out more like a war era. Several years of a prolonged fight against an ever-evolving enemy that has shifted the priorities of the planet and has caused people to fray in all sorts of bizarre ways. The waves continue to wreak havoc and the factions of believers and non-believers remain at odds, as fiercely as ever. COVID-19 has its claws well into 2022 and the foreseeable future. For artists, there is an endless supply of new problems and perspectives to explore in the time of Coronavirus.

The creative team of Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz have channelled this inspiration into an anthology exploring the many facets of this extraordinary period. Along with production collaborator Mike Butler they have compiled Music in the Time of Coronavirus, a four-part series of releases that feature O'Bitz's masterfully tasteful guitar and Anders incisive lyrics and arresting vocals. Part Four entitled Variant Blues lays into the failures of grossly incompetent “leaders”, assesses the emotional damage of our collective burden, and provides a glimmer of light from the other side of this mess. The music was almost exclusively assembled remotely in the spring and summer of 2021 when Delta was the variant du jour.

The opener is an unveiled indictment of the previous president. 'Far Gone' laments the unfathomable ways in which the country fell apart between 2017 and 2021 and the way that it seemed like nothing the man did could be stopped, no matter how illegal, immoral, or unpresidential. The song itself is not outwardly fiery, it remains in the Anders/O'Bitz wheelhouse of languorous singer-songwriter fare. The vitriol comes purely from the lyrics with the music echoing in resigned disappointment.

With the orange elephant in the room out of the way, they turn their attention away from the chaos at the hands of the power brokers to focus on the battle at home. Songs like 'We'll Get There Soon' and 'Err On the Side of Love' highlight relationships pushed to the point of breaking due to the combination of the usual personal struggles with the imposing medical predicament under which we are living. In each of these songs, Anders seeks to find the way through the hardship to the other side by staying obstinately positive in the face of his and others' understandable cynicism.

'Beyond Silence' introduces the swaying bending of tremolo bar guitar to give it that woozy Western feeling. Gospel chord changes, uplifting organ, and angelic backing vocals deliver a transcendent mood to 'Dusk Comes Too Soon'. Anders voice teeters on the brink of falsetto on a track that shares some thematic DNA with 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. The album concludes with a call back to arguably the duo's best track, the opener of 2019's Ghosts to Ancestors, 'Lopsided Gyre'. In this latest incarnation, they drop the steady plod of the rhythm section, leaving the instrumentation to just guitars and cinematic piano with the vocal coo of Jenn Grinels blending with Anders questioning reflection on the state of our world. With three years in between versions, the lyrics have become exponentially more pertinent. “Seen enough, it's not okay/Comin' around again today/The simple minds are easily afraid/Keep it stupid simple, their way/How do we live in a lopsided gyre?/How do we hope as the seas get higher/Where do we turn all the rot turns strange/Nowhere to go if we cannot change”. This new version is starker and more dramatic yet it has the propulsive rhythm taken out. Like a people worn down to the brink over a society eating itself alive. Melancholic as it may be, 'Lopsided Gyre' is a tremendously fitting anthem for the current zeitgeist. The perfect bookend to a project that has spanned the duration of the pandemic.

Anders and O'Bitz's Music in the Time of Coronavirus has been such a suitable soundtrack to the last two years. A muted confusion, frustration, apprehension yet also a persistent guarded hope. Anders writes allegory at luminary levels and commits his lyrics to music with the most striking of voices. All the while O'Bitz is there with the perfect accompaniment, tasteful and moving. They have declared the series to be a four-parter but if this pandemic continues, let's hope this duo has more chapters to guide us through to the end.