A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Virginia Wing emerge from the fog on Ecstatic Arrow, revealing keen songwriting chops and a sturdy, unflagging heart. Here’s our Virginia Wing Ecstatic Arrow album review.
When we last met Manchester’s Virginia Wing, Alice Richard‘s vocals sound distant and remote, like they’re echoing half-a-mile down a mine shaft. On last year’s excellent, introspective cosmic slow-burner Tomorrow’s Gifts, in collaboration with XAM Duo, her sibilance and murmurations sound more like horror movie sound effects or psychedelic sci-fi spoken word poetry than any kind of melodic element or narrative thrust.
Historically, Virginia Wing have had more in common with gauzy 21st Century dream pop, a la Melody’s Echo Chamber or Beach House, as well as retrodelic crate diggers like Broadcast or Stereolab. It’s a common move for shoegaze-y, Dream Pop bands, especially of late, where so many psych bands seem to be cribbing pages from ’80s art rock and plastic funk.
This auditory full-focus can be both a blessing and a curse. Some lo-fi musicians reveal themselves to be brilliant Popsmiths when you remove the murk – think Ariel Pink or The Mountain Goats – while others lose their charm when stripped of the basement skudge (would you really want to hear a really hi-fi Salem record?)
On Ecstatic Arrow, Virginia Wing are just as interesting and evocative painting with a bright, bold pallet of dayglo synths and neon loops and samples. It’s a much more modern sound, sounding like classic Animal Collective or Tame Impala once they incorporated the synthetic sheen.
The bolder, more up-front melodicism and song structure make for a sturdier skeleton for Alice Richard’s vocals, showing a broader range of styles while maintaining the low-key charm of the first few LPs. On album opener “Be Released,” she sounds like NYC Ghosts & Flowers-era Kim Gordon, mellowly murmuring over a locked, hypnotic banjo break. This is freak folk for real freaks, those of us obsessing over Folkways vinyl at 3 am, half-mad on hallucinogenic mold. The scent of patchouli and frankincense mixes with mothballs, with just a touch of Aqua Net White.
The samples keep things rhythmically interesting, as on “Glorious Idea,” with its lopsided marimba melody, calling to mind ’80s Oingo Bingo with a similar mixture of pop sensibilities and behind-the-scenes madness and menace. Rhythm has always been one of Virginia Wing’s secret weapons, preventing them from being mere imitators. With Shoegaze and Dream Pop, you run the risk of things becoming too washed out, making it difficult to focus, let alone remember highlights and standout moments. It can make for pleasant background listening, nice for painting abstract canvases or wandering the neighborhood sniffing lavender, but perhaps not meant to withstand the test of time.
With Virginia Wing’s newfound clarity, you want to revisit Ecstatic Arrow again and again. You’re able to pick out new details, standout lyrics, and memorable melodies with each passing listen, getting to know Alice Richards a bit more with each repetition. It’s a good look.
Virginia Wing are often considered the inheritors of revisionist pop historians Broadcast and Stereolab. Virginia Wing clearly have a similarly deep, vast, and adventurous record collections. Virginia Wing aren’t just creating clever, well-constructed pop collage, however. They truly make their influences their own, dragging both psychedelia, Dream Pop, Shoegaze, and recombinant pop into the 21st Century.
Fire Records is one of the most consistent purveyors of New Wave psychedelia in the digital age. Their releases are always a good litmus test of the current state of psych music. It sounds like we’re in good shape. It’s a promising sign that musicians are incorporating bold ’80s sounds without succumbing to the manic consumption of that decade. Perhaps we’re getting the new swell of the atemporal wave, sifting through decades and sorting out gold.
Gold Ecstatic Arrow most definitely is! Do not sleep! Then go back and listen to all of their other records. Here’s to a brave new world of interesting, artful, psychedelic music with populist sensibilities.
Virginia Wing’s <em>Ecstatic Arrow</em> is available to pre-order on vinyl from Fire Records.
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