By: Rich Buley
The Virgance | website | facebook | bandcamp |
Dismissed by his peers as something of a dreamer, with greater interest around him and some financial support Chuhachi Ninomayi, rather than The Wright Brothers, could have been the first to achieve controlled, powered and prolonged human flight. As it turned out, Orville and Wilbur did their thing in 1903 and Chuhachi’s plans to take off were shelved forever. Watching from a distance and presumably from the ground, this Japanese engineer subsequently became increasingly concerned by the number of deaths in flight, and so built the ‘Hiko Shrine’ in Yawata, to pray for the souls of the victims.
Nathan Smith, the Suffolk based musician behind The Virgance, has delivered a 2nd album of intricately layered, instrumental Shoegaze in less than 12 months, and following promising debut ‘Lost Continent’, Smith’s own ‘Hiko Shrine’ may well see a successful upward trajectory in stark contrast to those the other one exists to remember.
Flying off, quite literally, with the rather accurately entitled ‘Propulsion Lab Part 1’, Smith cooks up a mighty, head-swirling cacophony of reverb heavy noise rock, infused with what is obviously a keen ear for minor chord, melodic loveliness. The fact that this is the work of just one man is already approaching remarkable, and brings to mind, sans ethereal vocals, the spectacular debut of Michael Feerick on his Amusement Parks on Fire album in 2005. One can only hope that The Virgance also expand to a five piece, take to the road, and serve up these sonic maelstroms in venues up and down the country, in much the same way as our beloved and much missed APOF once did.
After such a frenetic opening, the dubby, spacey ‘Mobius Strip’ slows the pace, allowing a single, skeletal riff to dominate while what sounds like a choir of angelic alien lifeforms drift in and out of the mix. ‘Breitling Orbiter’ is straight from the woozy, multi-tracked school of MBV guitar dynamics, and would have benefited hugely from some greater progression or momentum during its slightly frustrating 5 minute outing.
We have a minute or so of ‘Loveless’ style guitars-nearly-sounding-like-flutes before ‘Airsick’ explodes into life with a warm, bubbling, reverberating wall of sound. As each guitar line is laid down so it spins back in on itself, creating an amorphous listening experience that fascinates and disorientates in equal measure. ‘Freon Presence’ is 2 and a bit minutes of becalmed, Hammock-like Electro Gaze, with drums that sound like they were recorded underwater, before ‘Interceptors’ rocks into our ears, and demonstrates once again, with its urgent, symphonic layers of sound, what a talented musician Nathan Smith is, and how much he understands the noise aesthetic.
We’re then back in the ‘Propulsion Lab’ for part 2, which toys with the listener initially, as if some overdue repairs are being made on whatever flying machine is currently grounded, before things head skyward once again, with an overdriven outro that brings the guitar mantras of Loop to mind, especially of ‘A Gilded Eternity’ era. ‘Eos and Astraeus’ follows a similar flight plan, although with an extended ambient section at the start, before the album closes with a visit to the upper layers of the Stratosphere, where no jet engines can be found, just gentle, pulsing electronic sounds, and that otherworldly choir, as they float back whence they came.
Overall, ‘Hiko Shrine’ is an involving listen. Too often solo, instrumental projects of this nature can be self-indulgent, manufactured and lifeless , but The Virgance has avoided these pitfalls expertly, and given us an album that can float with serene ambience and fly with fierce intensity, often in the same track.