The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Virginia Wing
Forward Constant Motion Danijela Bočev , November 28th, 2016 10:23

Since its beginning as the bedroom project of Sam Pillay, growing over time into collective endeavor with fluctuating line-up, Virginia Wing have thrived on constant reinvention. Then again, perhaps the most uninteresting thing artist could do is to emerge fully formed to public attention. Relocated from SE London to Manchester and reduced to the nucleus of Pillay and Alice Merida Richards, true to form their second collaborative effort, Forward Constant Motion, finds them reimagining their sound completely.

"The past is reinvented and becomes the future. But the lineage is everything," Philip Glass once said, and Virginia Wing seem to have taken that lesson to heart. No matter how indebted to various influences, theirs is a constructive nostalgia that re-thinkins the old by adding new elements and marches forward, always keeping a singular vision.

Named after Grace Slick's mother, Virginia Wing positioned themselves firmly on the psych/ post-punk/ experimental music scene with their convincing 2014 debut Measures Of Joy, now they're mutating their sound and exploring glitchier territories of pop and brutalist progressive electronica.

Collaborations with MJ from Hookworms and psych folk/punk wizard Koichi Yamanoha (Grimm Grimm, Screaming Tea Party), helped them shape their sound along the way. EP Rhonda, released earlier this year for RSD, signified more spontaneous approach: line-up reduction has led to the decidedly compensatory decision to expand their ideas — with excellent results. Some of their earlier psych, kosmische, and post-punk elements had to be sacrificed. Sebastian Truskolaski's drumming that gave their debut steady motoric groove and more conventional sense of focus is replaced on Forward Constant Motion with inventive beat programming, still keeping the pointed, propulsive edge that distinguished them from their hazy contemporaries. Dynamic, percussive patterns that borrowed samples even from ASMR videos, together with phone field recordings that can be found in the mix, add a sense of surprise, extracting sublime from the mundane. Previous hints of sonic experiments evoking Radiophonic Workshop are now explored with less restraint, with ruggedness of electronic pioneers filtered trough a contemporary avant-electronic sound, bringing invigorating freshness. It would be interesting to hear Virginia Wing delving deeper into sharply modulated synth experiments in the vein of avant-synth producer Kerry Leiner and his "artificial band" Savant, for example.

Forward Constant Motion feels like it wanted to be something more painstakingly crafted or obsessed over, but the pace of modern life and the imperative of moving forward doesn't always allow for that luxury. "You have to keep ahead in this miserable world, your time is to scarce to stay in one place," Richards sternly commands on jitteringly upbeat 'Miserable World', and sound follows in many directions. But rather than being a victim, stuck trying to catch up with the pace of society's dystopian momentum, truly progressive art embraces the acceleration paradigm as a positive agent in order to bring change. But it can only show the way forward: society may or may not follow.

Every expansion is followed by certain randomisation of energy; some may object that album's sound is overcrowded, bringing together seemingly incompatible stylistic patterns. Too many new ideas that need to be quickly processed are restlessly thrown, but never scattered, in raw fluxus. On Forward Constant Motion, Virginia Wing wrestle with anxiety, chaos and bleakness with newfound visor and a beat sorcery designed for some post-apocalyptic dancefloor. Existential realisations used to scare and demoralise us, but today we ought to find ways to navigate forward with the kind of disillusioned glee this album is bursting with. In comparison, tired dissatisfaction of minimal, bleakly psychedelic 'Be contained' sounds anachronistic — old luxury of misplaced sentiment that is hard to sincerely dwell upon.

Subtly dissonant interludes echo Broadcast, Virginia Wing's most obvious and still lingering influence. It's an echo answered, too, by many of their contemporaries: Gwenno, Exploded View, Melody's Echo Chamber — at times Julia Holter, Cat's Eyes, Deradoorian, Valet or White Poppy — are all a part of this call and response. But Virginia Wing continue the lineage with coviction and push it to new territories.

Merida Richards' exquisite vocals loyally follow Keenan/Sadier school of heartfelt detachment, with occasionally stern, icy composure flowing over dystopian soundscapes. The raw undercurrent of Forward Constant Motion's inner world is simultaneously vulnerably exposed and hidden, coded with deceptively candid paroles and straightforward mantra-like singing that serves as a self-soothing mechanism, meant to keep one's inner cacophony contained, if not explained — as spiritual reassurance, if not guidance. Unsettling sense of displacement is a strong theme: "I can't hear always your voice moving me towards where I'm meant to be, I thought I could trust my thoughts, but it seems, I keep drifting aimlessly," laments Richards on 'Sonia & Claudette'. Thoughts don't crystallise into solid realities and permanent self might just be an illusion. In what sociologist Zygmunt Bauman calls liquid modernity, rigid societal structures get dissolved, perhaps irreversibly, which brings a sense of permanent anxiety and uprootedness, but also newfound liberty and mobility.

The distorted sounds of glitchy loops, conflicting percussion, or oneiric passages are partially a consequence of Pillay's physical condition during making of the album, having developed Labyrinthitis — an inflammation of part of the inner ear that helps control balance, causing dizziness, nausea and vertigo. 'Local loop' starts with thunder-like sound of crashing structures, breaking and collapsing. "The symptoms would often come in spells, so I liked the idea of loosely replicating that feeling with the music. That's why some of the songs stop abruptly or sound as if they are falling apart. I wanted to reflect the fallibility of the human body," Pillay points to the main theme of the album. Measures of joy have turned into measures of disorder. "I started thinking about the human body, health, degeneration, decay, that sort of thing," Pillay explains. This inevitable entropy is reflected in their sound: catchy, dissonant grooves swirl unpredictably, stop randomly or burst unexpectedly in the middle of the track. Steady pace of enchanted industrial 'Hammer A Nail' is disturbed halfway by brilliantly mindwarping, oddly melodic vocal stutter manipulation, highlighting the album.

At the end of this bleak 2016., as much as we need new protest songs, maybe even more needed are new utopias and visionary art that will seek ways forward by reimagining the past without succumbing to escapism.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.