On their fourth album, quirky indie synthpop outfit Virginia Wing brings in the light and serves up their most hopeful, optimistic release yet.
8 June 2018
"Flawless and bright / Like the curtains coming loose" is a line from "Be Released", the opening track from Virginia Wing's new album, Ecstatic Arrow. Whether or not the line is meant to describe the album in general is unknown, but it certainly seems like these British synth-wielders are letting in a lot more light these days. Ecstatic Arrow embraces a sunny disposition, but fortunately for fans of their more offbeat moments, there's plenty of "quirk" here as well.
The album is also a welcome vehicle for their '80s synthpop obsessions - of the seven musicians credited, five of them handle synthesizer duties (among other things), including core members Samuel Pillay and singer Alice Merida Richards, whose voice provides a gauzy, deadpan narration to the songs. "Be Released" has a sticky-sweet vibe that's sure to conjure up plenty of memories of the Human League, but for every pop hook on Ecstatic Arrow, there's a moment of idiosyncrasy. "The Second Shift", for instance, combines a loose, funky beat with bits of sparkly atmospheric noise and Christopher Duffin's seemingly out-of-place (but ultimately welcoming) saxophone.
Lyrically, "The Second Shift" is one of the album's most notable tracks, addressing the issue of gender inequality, a potent reminder in the age of the #MeToo Movement. "Don't ask me for advice," the song begins, "I'll give it to you every time / Open up and let the forest fire / Destroy everything in sight." In the chorus, Richards continues: "I know the key / It's written in my whole body."
Virginia Wing has often been compared to fellow UK band Broadcast, and the band's admitted influences of Madonna and Talking Heads are apparent here from time to time (in addition to the fuzzy dream pop of Fire Records label-mates Las Kellies). But a more oddball contemporary band like Adult Jazz seems an apt comparison as well, as the cracked, off-kilter instrumentation of "Relativity" proves. Bold, twitchy keyboard riffs bump up against warm, hummable choruses like "I want to know / Every thought / Every cause and emotion."
The eclectic nature of the songs adds another enjoyable layer, as in the soothing, quasi-Caribbean flavor of "Eight Hours Don't Make a Day", a song that sounds like it should come with a strong, fruity drink served by the pool. But as always, Virginia Wing enjoys shifting gears – "For Every Window There's a Curtain" has a laid-back, almost dirge-like tempo, albeit sweetened by saxophone, an odd pan flute synth patch and Richards' gentle delivery.
But above it all, this is an album that benefits from its nods to another era. Anyone who pines for MTV's early years will find something to love here. Contemporary production values mesh nicely with an old-school execution, as on the frenetic "Glorious Idea", a song that could be a freak dancefloor hit if given a chance. A more straightforward pop/new wave song like "Pale Burnt Lake" provides plenty of keyboard ear candy, and the song is irrepressibly catchy, even when the beat relents ever so slightly and Richards hits you some oddly moving and inspired spoken word: "Bright yellow light / And cloudless skies / Un-cancel the future / And welcome July / And after that, tomorrow / Say your blessings now / And be glad you have arrived." It's a wonderfully warm message, and a fitting one. Virginia Wing are letting in the light, and we're all invited.