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Virginia Wing
Ecstatic Arrow Hayley Scott , June 5th, 2018 07:56

Melody, colour and introspection lead the way through frustration into something more powerful

Listening to Ecstatic Arrow is a very healing experience. Virginia Wing’s previous albums have all juxtaposed light with darkness – Alice Richards’ quiet and composed vocal style gloriously at odds with the scintillating clamour of what’s happening around her. But on Ecstatic Arrow there’s a more hopeful, optimistic sound. There are glimmers of the band shifting from leisurely ice-cool synthesis to more up-tempo, danceable elements.

Virginia Wing are frequently compared to Broadcast, and it’s easy to see why. Richards’ vocal style evokes the same soft sophistication as Keenan’s, and she has a similar ability to pique your senses with melody, colour and introspection. The detached calmness of ‘Eight Hours Don’t Make A Day’ in particular echoes Broadcast’s exploration of nostalgia – the fuzzy recollections of distant memories – but Virginia Wing’s influences are wildly varied. There are tinges of Madonna, Talking Heads and Holger Czukay at play – from the poppy accessibility of ‘Glorious Idea’ to the esoteric synth-pop of ‘Pale Burnt Lake’.

The album’s pinnacle – the gentle and uplifting ‘The Second Shift’ – is about our tendency to diminish and undermine women’s contributions to, well, everything. The track is particularly indicative of how far Virginia Wing have come since the dour psych of their earlier EP’s: XAM Duo’s Christopher Duffin’s beautifully executed sax parts add warmth and clarity to the languid groove of the bass as it occasionally swings into frame, escalating in an incandescent solo. The new-found confidence in Alice Richards’ voice is a satisfying development: on previous records, her vocals often acted as background noise – occasionally sliding into focus, threatening to break into song. Now, the glacial deadpan of yore is replaced by something more compelling, expressive and candid.

Even in the moments of frustration – Richards’s grievances on inequality, destructive behaviours and male entitlement – there persists a glow of calm and measured positivity. “I’m tired / but not giving in,” sings Richards – a perfect summation of this record as a whole. Richards frequently deals with the contradictions and complexities of modern life – apathy vs action, dejection vs optimism – in a way that’s thought-provoking and smart. At the heart of this record, though, is a pop prowess that traverses genre norms: from leftfield jazz, to ashram-dwelling new age. Their best record to date, Ecstatic Arrow reminds us of the astonishing things you can do with pop music if you dare defy conventions.