Sound of Confusion, December 2015
Nathan Smith has covered a few bases in his music career, most notably as guitarist for '90s indie band Ripley, and then changing tack and working as a co-producer with electronica outfit Loveless a few years later. Now going under the name The Virgance, it's the lush and distorted sounds of shoegaze that he's creating, and at quite a prolific rate. 'Paradigm 3' was his second album this year alone, and his third in eighteen months. It's very much the first wave of shoegaze bands that are recalled on new single "25 Years", and in particular Slowdive. With a subtle but powerful swelling introduction, washes of groaning guitar come into focus with a distinct majesty to them. It's not unlike something that could have slotted onto 'Souvlaki'. Drums try to peer out from the clouds but are dampened by the soft weight of it all, with just a hint of lead guitar coming into partial focus. '25 Years' is deeply atmospheric and lushly produced, it's enough to prove wrong all the doubters that think you need lyrics or a prominent melody to hold people's attention. This avoids both and is all the more awesome for it.
Drowned In Sound, October 2015
Colchester's Nathan Smith, aka The Virgance, has been on the Some Velvet Mixtape radar for a while now. His instrumental soundscapes recall the ambience of Tortoise and Slowdive along with the urgency of Mogwai or Los Planetos Del Agua. Last month saw the release of his third album, 'Paradigm 3', and it's rarely been off the stereo since.
Unsigned & Independent, September 2015
'Paradigm 3' opens with "25 Years", a lavish effort with a tactile feel to the texture. That is amassed from the finite way the shoegazer apparel of the looping guitar prevails over proceedings. How that comes to define things is evident in the churning, but enhanced by the accompanying electronic touches. The sound becomes more contracted on "Epiphony" with a more determined presence duly noted. The more heightened appreciation on show gives the wall of sound a bit more leverage. It is also rounded out more and carried through with telling distinction in a way that gives the tempo a more robust sense of style. We then come to third track "Sequester". This is a more alternative showing. The layering shows a defined sense of scope in the arrangement. This calculated call builds the slower movement on the intro. What is neat about the movement here keeps the progression compact and relevant. The we have "Moonolog". With the bass hook on the intro it starts off with a real sense of contention. As the heady stirring of the riffs come to bear down it moves prominently. A fixation becomes apparent but it also denotes a sense of development in the musical sense that has been present but here takes things up a considerable notch. In the secondary progression the sound is gloriously saturated and carried across the a true sense of accomplishment.
Turning on that same level of developing the sound is "Saturnine". The heavier emphasis on the drumming is felt on the intro and the synth is layered around that before dominating the aural landscape. The way it lifts the sound fits everything together to give the running time added bite. Ukrainian band Ummagma feature on "Down The River". This again has a fine sense of ensemble balance and there is a tranquillity fixed upon the rhythm which is exacted with precision. How the guitar derivative charges through here gives off an added allure that scorches the sound expressively. "Dissipate" is a smart tune. The running time is kept brief but it has a more resilient feel about how it is styled, with a biding furore tidied away in the tracking. Yet the sonic pitch seems to bring a choir-like ambience to proceedings. This distinction meets well with the guitar play and seamlessly blends into final track "No Return". In how it is keyed there is a pensive calling. You pick up on how balanced the overall depiction is and it is a steady tune that is met with a fitting encore at the end.
Primal Radio/Music Blog, September 2015
The art of sculpturing beautifully textured musical notes, layering them one on top of the other and then incorporating a cinematic storyline into every fibre of a finished soundscape marks out an artist as true genius. To have the ability to tell a story through the medium of mind bending soundwaves in this modern day, underground musical world is astonishing! Back in January I was blown away by a collection of immensely moving and truly thought-provoking tracks courtesy of UK-based 'The Virgance', AKA Nathan Smith. 'Hiko Shrine' for me encapsulated the true spirit of this modern day shoegazing world, where an emotive, looping and shimmering, reverberating sound broke down barriers and allowed this listener to float on a wave of experimental musical brilliance and it is without doubt one of my favourite albums of this year so far. Now Nathan Smith AKA 'The Virgance' has unleashed a behemoth of a follow-up album entitled 'Paradigm 3' on the brilliant underground independent 'El Vals Del Conejo' Records and has once again catapulted himself into expressive shoegazing heaven. 'Paradigm 3' sounds almost like an extension to 'Hiko Shrine', with its expansive, cinematic shoegazing tendencies, pummelling swirls of reverb and space-age-like soundscapes, but there is a deeper focus this time around a more structured sound. Yes, the shimmering, spine-tingling brilliance is there (just in case I've scared you), but with the added advantage of precise song structuring and definitive shape included in the mix! This time, Nathan has left us with a way to come down from the dizzying heights of 'Hiko Shrine'. There is now a structured tethering that fixes itself to terra firma but is held deep within 'Paradigm 3' that is absolutely intoxicating.
The album opens up with the brilliant "25 Years". A swirling wall of reverberating sound caresses your eardrums as you dive into a musical murmuration. This cinematic soundscape comforts you as it guides you through clouds of wonderful gazing sounds, only to soar above the looping and arcing jet streams that are created by layers and layers of fuzzy brilliance. An absolutely masterful track that needs repeated listens to actually hear everything. Next up is the gliding "Epiphony". This track streaks skywards through crashing cymbals, repetitive drum patterns and emotive, droning soundwaves that seem to go on forever. Track 3 entitled "Sequester" is a sonic war of attrition, with its whispered beginnings leading the listener on a musical journey through layers of instrumental brilliance, before emerging into a structured finale. "Moonolog" stumbles into Death In Vegas' Contino Sessions territory, with its structured opening bars consisting of repetitive drum patterns and floating selective guitar arrangements that are strangely reminiscent of experimental Richard Fearless, until the shimmering break momentarily takes the wind from its sails only to pick up once more and kick-start the whole process over again, but this time with added structured, swirling, fuzzy shoegazing tendencies. "Saturnine" is a slow droning whirlwind held within a magical, spacerock-induced world that reminds me of when I was young and I held a seashell up to my ear for the very first time. It's a snapshot of immense cinematic soundwaves, held within a small, insignificant space. but capable of creating a beautifully intense sound - stunning! Track 6 and the longest track on the album, "Down The River" features the seemingly indestructible, angelic vocal arrangements of Shauna McLarnon (UMMAGMA), which are used here to brilliant effect, immersed and intertwined within a plethora of swirling, effected reverberation. "Dissipate" barely registers with me after the heady brilliance of the previous track and comes across as more of an outro than a full track. The anticipation of the traditional Virgance closing track has my mind spinning and Nathan Smith does not disappoint - the absolutely stunning "No Return" meanders onto the musical canvas with its soaring cinematic brilliance.
'Paradigm 3' is full of thought-provoking instrumental shoegazing from start to finish! It has everything needed to take the listener on a musical journey through peaks and troughs of shoegazing brilliance. For me though, it doesn't quite reach the spell-binding, soaring heights of 'Hiko Shrine', which still stands as a mesmerising beacon of shimmering light in this year's underground psychedelic shoegazing scene.
Pure M, September 2015
While playing as part of indie ensemble Ripley back in the nineties, English artist Nathan Smith earned airplay on both BBC Radio One and MTV Europe. Now though, he's firmly focused on showcasing his shoegaze skills, having produced three whole albums in less than two years under the guise of his dream-pop project, The Virgance. The latest of these, 'Paradigm 3', is due to drop on September 21st and features eight tracks, beginning with "25 Years". This opener reverberates amid airy instrumentation, building plenty of anticipation and staying celestial throughout. "Epiphany" emerges from its aftermath and maintains an ethereal ambience through resounding guitars and heavenly hums that are buried in the background. It eventually fades out gently ahead of the relaxing opening of "Sequester". Staying slow and sedate, this strolls softly forward upon laid back drums and restrained riffs. It all ultimately reaches an intense end before the energetic riffs of "Moonolog" take over. This fast and fervent foray carries a lot warmth as its enthusiastic instrumentation establishes an optimistic atmosphere which lasts until its resonant finish. "Saturnine" adopts a sinister sound next, with its dire drums and foreboding riffs. "Down the River" calms things down afterwards, serving as a simultaneously serene and sonorous song on the way to the haunting high-pitched electronics of "Dissipate". "No Return" then follows to bring the record to a transcendent terminus. The overall result is a loud but light assembly of shoegaze anthems that rest fairly easily on the ears and allow listeners to unwind as they unfold.
Stereo Embers Top 20 Songs Of 2015, December 2015
15. The Virgance - Down The River
The Virgance is the solo project of Nathan Smith, who released two brilliant albums in 2015: 'Hiko Shrine' earlier in the year and 'Paradigm 3' later on. The character trademark of this music is that it is delightfully light and uplifting instrumental shoegaze. The one exception to this on his latest LP is the track "Down the River", which features vocals by Shauna McLarnon from Ummagma. They are ever so fragile and, for the most part, woven into the fabric of the song in such a way to sound like an instrument rather than vox per se. Delightful, airy and enchanting. It was a toss-up for me between this track and "25 Years", but the vocals are the part that won me over on this one. Enjoy!
Chromaticism, October 2015
'Paradigm 3' is the 3rd album in 18 months from precocious and prodigious talent, The Virgance, aka Natham Smith. It follows hot on the heels of 2014's 'Lost Continent' and this January's 'Hiko Shrine', a release which, in conjunction with an interview with the man himself, I was honoured to have grace this page - "'Hiko Shrine' needs to be listened to, and through listening, savoured and appreciated for the vastness of it's realised ambition.” - chromaticism.... It delights me that even Nathan's own Facebook page struggles to identify a "genre" into which he can be easily pigeon-holed, citing "Indie Rock/Shoegaze/Dream Pop/Noise Rock/Post Rock/Ambient/Experimental". The Virgance is all of these things, and reassuringly more than merely the sum of its constituent parts.
"25 Years" shimmers into hallucinatory view, mirage-like in it's sparkling effervescence, an illusory anniverser-al allusion. "Epiphony" not only appeals to my penchant for wordplay and derision for spell-checking, it delivers a beatific, harmonious exercise in how to leave the fakers dumbfounded and grasping at their funerary wake. "Sequester", as the name suggests, perhaps portents a sense of isolation, there is an aching longing, a treasure trove revelatory prize, awaiting those who seek it. "Moonolog" swaggers with confident patination, an opulent drum revelry.... "Saturnine" delves deep and dense, yet defies its taciturn roots; there is an ephemera hinting at the salvation beyond. "Down The River", featuring the equally subliminal Ummagma, eludes the gravitational pull with its floating, transient, sub-tropical dreamscape. "Dissipate" is a gossamer film; an imperceptible, intangible dimensional interface, and yet it tantalisingly exists, just out of reach. "No Return" rumbles into frame, ushering a glistening assemblage of layering orchestration, the pervasive coda, in and of itself a fragmentary, eclectic delight.... 'Paradigm 3' is an enveloping, cinematic triumph, a treatise in crystalline, evanescent distillation.
"Melan-phoric" has been my imagineered word of the week, and I make no apology for using it again in relation to the output of The Virgance, which is both lugubrious and spiritually uplifting, in gloriously equal measure.
DOA (Delusions of Adequacy), September 2015
In July of this year, when I was reviewing a compilation of new music by Shoegaze bands (The Revolution: The Shoegaze Revival album), I noticed a distinctive variation of approach towards the music, with the Traditionalists recreating the sounds of those bands recognised as the most influential (among them Slowdive, Ride, Cocteau Twins and MBV) and the Modernists, bands that are taking those influences and reconfiguring them, going further along the route of developing their own sound. The Virgance, the project of Nathan Smith, falls very definitively into the latter category, and none of the eight instrumental tracks on 'Paradigm 3' are identifiably tributes to any of the recognised masters of the genre. Moreover, one or two of the tracks are really, really well performed and with the sort of post-noise-rock-ambient-nugaze-ran-out-of-clichés energy and enthusiasm behind them that, within the - hopefully broadening - limits of the Shoegaze world, it is quite possible to describe the music of The Virgance as being original and inspired.
There is one thing I'm experiencing some slight difficulty with and that has a lot to do not with the actual music, which is verging upon superb during the course of 'Paradigm 3', but with the demands Nathan Smith has placed upon his recording equipment, which are occasionally considerable. Second track "Epiphony" is the sort of track that verbs such as 'coruscating' and 'blistering' are often used to describe whenever music scribes need to get across the idea that something is loud, tuneful and the sort of thing that people that favour music like this are going to enjoy quite a lot. It's a bit confusing; all the labelling of music and referencing that is necessary when writing about albums such as 'Paradigm 3'. Had Nathan Smith decided to describe what he does as post-rock, that wouldn't in any way detract from the qualities of his music, but making that statement has me wondering exactly what the differences are and what one or two added guitar pedals can do to a track. One consistent element of The Virgance is the bass sound, which is a deeply sonorous one, tuned way down to low B and sometimes nearly overwhelming the drum sound. That adds a solidity to tracks such as "Moonolog" and "25 Years" and prevents the guitars from swirling away into the ether entirely, as can happen when the reverb takes over the chord sequencing. Avoiding being too referential - no warped sounding MBV riffs or gently strummed Robin Guthrie-esque arpeggios are present - The Virgance's sound is nearer the soundscaping of Explosions In The Sky and Bring Me The Horizon, than to the melodic subtleties of Slowdive or the jangly powerpop of Lush.
I wanted to write this review without it being either too referential or too reliant on descriptions of styles of music, but that is somehow unavoidable when a musician chooses to make music connected to the entire Shoegaze scene, and I don't doubt that Nathan Smith would prefer that a lot of his audience just listened to what he has recorded and left their preconceptions wrapped up in a 1988 copy of Melody Maker. For a number of reasons, that isn't going to happen yet and those of us writing about music (which is of course a very easy thing to do) will need to keep falling back on the genre labels and namechecking that core group of late '80s bands whose influence is a continuing international phenomenon.
'Paradigm 3' is a very worthy addition to the canon of dream-pop/nu-gaze/other terms for guitar music with lots of effects and obscure-sounding song titles and lyrics, and Nathan Smith has a very firm grip on exactly what it is that can make modern guitar rock a musically credible experience to listen to.
Something You Said, September 2015
There is such a futuristic sacredness about the production of 'Paradigm 3' by The Virgance. Not one audible word is spoken or sung on this album, which sits pretty far on one end of the Shoegaze spectrum. And although 'Paradigm 3' may close doors for some Shoegazers (particularly those whom enjoy a heavier sound and lyrics), the breeze of ambient shoegaze is peacefully entering through the windows instead, engaging a whole new crowd of listeners.
The tracks on 'Paradigm 3' feature soft, whispery vocals of which some belong to Shauna McLarnon of highly rotated Primal Radio frequent, Ummagma. McLarnon's voice borrows the angelic qualities of Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, which comfortably sit back with Nathan's progressive experimental soundscapes. "Sequester" jumps into a smashing percussion by the three-minute mark, which is a standout moment on the album with its echoed drums and cymbals, and muffled tinkerings, all deeply layered to form one of Paradigm 3's most energetic tracks. "Moonolog" features this catchy beat that only stands out due to the breakdown, featuring a short period in what sounds like a vibraphone-type instrument giving the song a hint of retro 60's elevator. The track is quite percussion-heavy throughout, with the rolling thumps of the kick and snare drums, and closing with the swirling reverbs that layer and loop into one another like a fine weave. If you are a fan of Enya's more instrumental contributions, you will surely love 'Paradigm 3', and "Down the River" is sure to please with its ethereal, relaxing echoed vocals layered upon one another and dreamy maximum reverb. The track also begins and (lightly) ends with the atmospheric audio of a river stream and birdcalls. But the most beautifully haunting track for me is the short and sweet "Dissipate", which kicks off with a distorted high pitch note that I can only describe as a divine church-like sound, and would smoothly accompany a Jonathan Glazer film (even Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes to mind).
I keep asking myself what word I think of first when I hear this music. 'Journey' always comes first to mind, no matter which way I look at it. Perhaps it's the soft, angelic fragility that emphasises the beauty of a journey, that quest to find ultimate peace or even purity? But if Slowdive, Dead Mellotron, Enya and Decoder Ring mean anything to you, you will easily find a place for Nathan Smith's moniker The Virgance in your fantastic library of experimental, shoegaze and ambient music.
Sounds Better With Reverb, September 2015
The Virgance delivers his third album 'Paradigm 3' this month - a relentless shoegaze monolith! The British solo artist Nathan Smith is joined by Shauna McLarnon of Ummagma, who lends her dreamy vocals to 'Down The River'. Nathan's work has never been made for the masses and 'Paradigm 3' is no different. It's an experimental odyssey that shows continuing growth. There's a lot to get swept up in - an album that commands zoning out!
Drowned In Sound, May 2015
"Hiko Shrine" is one of the most beautifully constructed albums to grace the stereo this year. Combining elements of ambient post-rock with errant, effects-laden melodies, it is something of an experimental journey for its creator and ultimately represents a giant leap forward from its predecessor "Lost Continent".
[sic] Magazine, January 2015
I am revered to review a really brilliant album by The Virgance. The Virgance is a solo project of UK-based Nathan Smith and with the album, 'Hiko Shrine', he unleashes a swirly placid trip from the shoegaze universe. This is the second album by him, much more brighter and upbeat than the debut album, 'Lost Continent'. His heedfulness towards the details is appreciable. Each track is filled with a loopy and swirly bubblegum surprise. The opening track, 'Propulsion Lab Part 1' is absolutely frenzied and stunning. A track like this satisfies all the ear-sexual requirements of a shoegaze fan. After the eruption of cacophony and reverb, the second track 'Mobius Strip', cools down the temperature but still maintaining the balance of the album's complexity. The next track, 'Breitling Orbiter' suggests an updated take on Eno's and MBV's pioneering guitar experiments.
Tracks like 'Airsick' and 'Freon Presence' bring a more experimental approach to this album with its reverberating wall of sound and the latter contributing towards nugaze. 'Interceptors' reminds us again how genius this album is and how blazingly the album is wrapped around the blankets of reverb, making the listener calm and warm. 'Propulsion Lab Part 2' is a more pleasant and rather surprising trip. The arrangements here are so voluptuous, yet filled with ethereal melodies. 'Eos and Astraeus' also plays psychedelically with the listener who is drowning in the swirling streams of the wall of the sound. Finally, 'Slingshot' gives a perfect ambient finish to this album. Overall, 'Hiko Shrine' is an instant love for a shoegaze fan. The album balances the complexity and pop melodies with a remarkable self-assurance for the creation. An album like this supports the fire of second-wave shoegaze burning. A must recommend album to all shoegaze lovers.
Primal Music Blog / Replicant Ears Magazine, January / February 2015
Specialising in writing & producing spectacular instrumental soundscapes via the medium of shoegaze, dreampop, noise-rock & post-punk on your own is not an easy thing. You have to be a master of a certain type of craft to undertake a mammoth project like this. What Nathan Smith aka The Virgance has achieved, in not only this release, but in his magnificent 2014 debut release 'Lost Continent' is nothing short of genius! His attention to detail is immense. With swirling, looping & arching reverb-drenched walls of guitar leading the charge through an effortless, almost cinematic-like soundscape of haunting vocal lines, thriving drums & hypnotic bass lines, the experimental tracks on 'Hiko Shrine' are just stunning to listen to. You really have to listen to this album via headphones to experience the absolute feeling of weightlessness & zero gravity! 'Hiko Shrine' is why I love this genre of music so much. It epitomises & embodies what I believe this modern day, next wave of shoegazing is all about. This is the next level. This is Post-Gaze! With almost creeping intent, the album's explosive opening track 'Propulsion Lab Part 1' enters the musical atmosphere like a steam train. This track is absolutely stunning! It takes you to places you could only dream of. Layers of effected guitars loop around your cranium, carefully caressing your eardrums with reverb-induced hallucinogenics as you're led skywards to some imaginary planet where shoegaze is king! This is one of my favourite tracks of this year so far, and I know this year is yet young, but I reckon this album will be hanging around my top 5s of 2015, come year's end, it is that bloody good. You could press play on any one of the tracks on this immense album and instantly get lost daydreaming your way through it's epic soundscapes. From the extremely addictive 'Mobius Strip' straight through to, my second favourite track on 'Hiko Shrine', 'Breitling Orbiter' and on into 'Airsick', 'Freon Presence', 'Interceptors', 'Propulsion Lab Part 2', 'Eos & Astraeus' and the album's closing track 'Slingshot', this album is breathtakingly immense. It's walls of sound will entice you in and lead you through numerous levels of post-punk & dreampop-infused gaze whilst propelling you into the heavens. It's a roller coaster of sound waves and sonic pulses, ethereal vocal lines, pounding drums, throbbing basslines & looping guitar swells. 'Hiko Shrine' is a wondrous thing. It is hard to believe that this maelstrom of epic sounds was written & produced by just one person? What Nathan Smith has achieved is amazing and I congratulate him on releasing a kraken. I'd be very surprised if 'Hiko Shrine' doesn't top end of year polls right across the board this year, due to how immaculate it sounds. This is an epic musical masterpiece and one that I shall listen to for a long time to come! http://primalmusicblog.com/2015/01/24/the-virgance-hiko-shrine-an-introduction-el-vals-del-conejo http://replicantears.com/2015/02/23/album-review-the-virgance-hiko-shrine-2015
Sounds Better With Reverb, January 2015
Last October we had a listen to "Propulsion Lab Part 1" by British shoegazer The Virgance. This week, the solo artist releases his second album "Hiko Shrine", an ode to instrumental drone, shoegaze and experimental noise. It's the work of Nathan Smith, who debuted his work as The Virgance on last year's "Lost Continent" LP. His latest is a melodic step forward whilst keeping a foot in the lo-fi waters of his debut. It's not for the casual listener - just because there's an absence of vocals doesn't mean it's background music! The Virgance is a textured, visceral experience that's best consumed as a whole. Listening through one song doesn't do it justice.
We Close Tonight, January 2015
Get this down you! In a world where everyone is starting to have to tread lightly in fear of causing any upset, it's good to know that there are still people out there breaking the mould and absolutely smashing out music like the stuff you'll hear on this album from The Virgance.
With that masterful shoegaze aesthetic that's always brought me a sense of joy and fulfilment, the instrumental force behind every last track on this album makes for very enjoyable listening indeed. There's plenty of full throttle guitars on offer and the effects that provide such a hazy, disorientating sound are exquisite from start to finish. It may be hard to drag certain listeners in without the addition of a vocal line running throughout but if you're into that wonderful shoegaze sound then there's no doubting that this release will be right up your alley. It's incredibly easy to find yourself becoming overwhelmed by these epic aural tapestries as they flood your ears with a wide array of sounds, spreading confusion and panic amongst those who may be unaware of exactly how marvellously intense the music that they're listening to is.
Go grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee and take the time to get lost in these mind-bending sounds from The Virgance, it'll be the best thing you do all day.
The Revue, January 2015
The Virgance is the solo project of Suffolk, England based multi-instrumentalist Nathan Smith, who was previously with '90s indie outfit Ripley and later electronica act Loveless. As a solo artist, the best way to describe Smith's music is a more shoegazey Explosions in the Sky. Like the Austin, Texas quartet, Smith focuses on creating music that captivates and seduces at times and then surprises with its explosive riffs and beats.
On 'Hiko Shrine', Smith further expands upon his experimental, sonic rock. Adding an interstellar feel akin to Anthony Gonzalez's (M83) score for the movie 'Oblivion', his sophomore album takes us on a ride that soars above the stratosphere. From the opening track, 'Propulsion Lab Part I' to the middle track 'Freon Presence' to the finale 'Slingshot', the album does not sound like nine distinct tracks but rather one cohesive song - or more like a story. With each track, the music builds as the plot thickens and rises and falls with each flurry of action (such as on tracks 'Mobuis Strip' and the excellent 'Airsick'), before reaching its buzzing climax ('Eos and Astraeus') and ending with a moment of serenity ('Slingshot').
Where Smith differs from Gonzalez's score of the Tom Cruise movie is the way he utilizes different sounds and textures throughout the album instead of relying on the same melody. As a result, a wave of emotions is felt, never feeling as if one was stuck in a single moment. 'Hiko Shrine' is a fascinating album that at times exhilarates. It's not just another album; 'Hiko Shrine' could be the soundtrack of a blockbuster film - or maybe a NASA documentary.
Backseat Mafia, January 2015
'Hiko Shrine' is The Virgance's second album, following the success and critical acclaim of its predecessor, 'Lost Continent', which was released in February 2014. 'Hiko Shrine' delivers everything that an experimental, instrumental shoegaze/dreampop/noiserock album should. There are intense barrages of guitar looped frenzy, counterbalanced with dazzling washes of ethereal bliss.
The nine tracks on the album appear to peel off between the turbulence of 'Propulsion Lab Part I' and the following 'Mobius Strip', 'Breitling Orbiter', 'Airsick', 'Freon Presence' and 'Interceptors' for the first two thirds, followed by the repose of 'Propulsion Lab Part II', 'Eos and Astraeus' and 'Slingshot'. Within this context, the track titles in themselves conjure and evoke the albums flight-themed imagery. To these ears, 'Part I' feels more representative of powered flight, scramjet propulsion, punching through the atmosphere, whereas 'Part II' sounds freer of mankind, gliding with a more otherworldly grace. 'Hiko Shrine' is an album that will cosset and edify, with each nuanced microphysical absorption.
I have consciously opted on this review to avoid all but the briefest of descriptive glimpses to the music, because this is an album that simply has to be heard. 'Hiko Shrine' needs to be listened to, and through listening, savoured and appreciated for the vastness of it's realised ambition.
The Equal Ground, February 2015
Last year The Virgance aka Nathan Smith released a highly impressive full-length shoegaze lover's wet dream entitled 'Lost Continent' Less then a year later his follow-up 'Hiko Shrine' is very much in the same vein but it also raises the stakes. One of my favorite tracks of all time is called 'Glide' by Tim Hecker. It is in my opinion a quintessential track that is about as close to perfection as you can get to marry white noise with tranquil waves of beauty. 'Hiko Shrine' very much tries to and succeeds at doing that same exact thing, except across an entire album. Another obvious comparison here is My Bloody Valentine. There are definite similarities but also contrasting differences. First off, Smith stylistically incorporates grandiose postrock-infused passages that fly high. You hear Smith trying to surpass climaxes much in the same way Godspeed You Black Emperor and M83 do.
The opening track 'Propulsion Lab Part I' is a beautiful concoction of distortion, synths, drums and possibly other sounds that only my subconscious would notice. It immediately grabs onto a wavelength of energy and doesn't let go until the song is over. 'Propulsion Lab Part I' feels like it is moving at a thousand miles per second, although the BPM is probably around 120.
Smith understands the pacing of an album as he demonstrates on 'Mobius Strip' and 'Breitling Orbiter'. 'Mobius Strip' is a moment of tranquil serenity after 'Propulsion Lab Part I'. It's a reflective moment in which you are able to embrace your surroundings. 'Breitling Orbiter' starts to take off but still is surrounded by atmospheric, ethereal elements that point to awe and wonder. I think it is fair to call 'Airsick' the centerpiece of the album. The seven-plus minute track builds waves of white noise and underlying pads of beauty that will take over every frequency your speakers can produce. As the album progresses, 'Eos and Astraeus' and 'Slingshot' are notable tracks. 'Slingshot' omits the white noise from guitars, while focusing on angelic tones and pads.
Some people don't understand this genre and can't get past abrasiveness and dissonance. In my ideal alternative universe, music like this would be playing at the Superbowl half-time show, not Katy Perry. To my ears, this music enables us to empathise with the emotions that are too abstract for words to fully recognize.
Echoes and Dust, January 2015
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.
The Musical Junkie, February 2015
I remember first listening to The Virgance's debut LP "Lost Continent" and getting swallowed whole by the blissful noise coming out of the songs. The second release "Hiko Shrine" further expands on the euphoric soundscapes and transforms into a cerebral road trip. This is music to get lost in. This is music for daydreams.
The guitars are stretched like trees and the falling leaves resemble the distortion leaking from each riff. The opening track "Propulsion Lab Part 1" sets the stage for this. The ethereal patterns, which reference the work of Kevin Shields, are brilliant and bright. A homage to classic shoegaze. There are moments where the guitar sound warps and twists to create radiant new layers. An example of this is the rumbling parlance of "Mobius Strip", where the echoes sound as if they are coming from another galaxy. It almost perfectly symbolises a foreign planetary sunrise. "Interceptors" has a strange quality to the style in which it's being played. The Virgance steps into noise rock territory and it's a personal favorite of the album.
There is a constant theme of space behind the way these songs are structured. The instrumentals are little atmospheres that give the listener an experience of floating. "Breiting Orbiter" is a slow-moving jam out of exploration. The guitars glide above the crashing drums and hissing synths. It paints a scenery of glowing stars from the view of a steel vessel.
Nathan Smith, the mastermind behind the Virgance, has managed to erase the bridge between the rocking attributes of shoegaze and its everlasting calmness. Smith has merged both into a phosphorescent tone of noises. To define the sound perfectly, try listening to "Eos and Astraeus" and repeat. This is made for people who wonder in thought and creativity. As I mention before, this is music for daydreams. So press play and close your eyes.
The Active Listener, February 2015
Formerly of Ripley and Loveless, Nathan Smith is steering his own boat now as the Virgance, a one-man maelstrom capable of both extreme shoegaze squall and moments of serene beauty.
Smith's compositional approach has an almost ambient quality, with layers of processed guitar ebbing and flowing over pounding, insistent drums. Instrumental shoegaze he calls it, and I certainly couldn't argue with that description, although the echo laden guitars on tracks like "Propulsion Lab Part I" also remind this listener favourably of unbeatable post-rock titans Jakob. These layering techniques give an initial impression of a wall of noise, but repeated plays reveal naggingly hooky melody lines lurking just below the surface, distorted by, and sometimes created by the echo effect. Smith also has an unerring ear for crescendo building, releasing into calmness at exactly the right moment for maximum impact, creating a sense of negative space which is sometimes as overwhelming as the preceding storm.
The consistency of mood and lack of vocals throughout "Hiko Shrine" may not offer enough variety for everyone, but then again you don't create instrumental shoegaze music to reach a mainstream audience. Listeners more attuned to Smith's mindset however, will discover that the initial, nagging sense of sameness evaporates after a few listens. Rather than separate "Hiko Shrine" into its constituent parts, it's best to approach it as one lengthy, transportative piece, full of subtle twists and turns which exert an addictive pull, while retaining an elusive quality that helps maintain an element of mystery.
Ideally suited for headphone listening, I'd recommend immersing yourself fully in this one, with no outside stimuli to distract from the beautiful, ferocious world that Smith has created.
Clank For Breakfast, January 2015
With "Hiko Shrine", Suffolk-based musician Nathan Smith aka The Virgance unleashes his second album adventure. He once more opens the door to his layered, instrumental shoegaze universe which seduces via epic atmospheres with post rock splinters thrown in, psychedelically swirling streams, pleasantly fuzz-driven riffs, and embracingly melancholic, beautiful melody lines. A varied, exciting and passionately knit trip between fragile, dreamy clouds and powerful kicks.
Backseat Mafia, June 2014
Essentially a solo project for Nathan Smith, the former guitarist of nineties indie band Ripley, and one-third of noughties electro noisemongers Loveless, The Virgance make these almost ambient, mostly instrumental soundscapes, awash with effects and alternately lush dreaminess, splashes of electronica and moments of noisy shoegaze.
His latest album, Lost Continent, opens with Cataclysm, this swirling track of merging sounds and murky ambience that grows and swells and ebbs and flows, climaxing in this huge swathe of noise, from white noise, to guitar to sung sounds. The thing that Smith does so cleverly, not only in Cataclysm but throughout the record is that he manages to wrap these glorious little snatches of melody in, so that they’re not just atmospheric pieces, they’re actual tunes you can fall in love with. And that’s the strength of it.
What follows in the record is very much a similar palette of sounds, but painted in a variety of ways so the record doesn’t ever sound samey. Drowning Maya has this recurring white noise underneath everything that drags the piece together as the psych-like melody lifts off, whereas Her Reflection is much slower moving. Or, slower and moving, you might say, as it quietly creeps towards you, more experimental than most of the other tracks, with these shooting guitar effects giving it this almost stargazing (rather than the poolgazing the title might suggest) feel.
Later on in the eight track record, Hydrolagus is built on this static electronic hue, before delivering the records real moments of heartache, whilst the sprawling Leonid Memory finishes the record with its ambient, dreamy vibe, the gently pulsating electronics giving it this sense of the unreal. Best of all though is the seering , shimmering brilliance of Cedar Rapids. It’s quite a song, and quite an album.
The Musical Junkie, February 2014
This album by UK shoegaze/dreampop project The Virgance opens up like a rise of an empire. It’s a posture full of glory and beauty. The bloodlines are made of gold. You can sense all this with the dream induced guitar riffs. They are shaded with reverb and distortion. This is what makes shoegaze worth listening to. The music is a reflection of legends like My Bloody Valentines, Lush, and Mazzy Star.
The guitars in “Her Reflection” slither in colours that only speak in loud volumes.“Hydrolagus” is structured with a mesmerizing rhythm of drums and echoing guitars. There are no vocals but there are natural harmonious angels in every moment. It’s like slipping into a dream state. “Catch The Wave” is the noisiest track. The drums and guitar riffs hit your ears in balanced punches. There is a thick coating of distortion that buries the instruments but never gets overwhelming. The Virgance knows how to properly present a chaotic milieu in a viewpoint of ecstasy. It’s like aiming for a star in a stormy night.
“Departure From Kivalina” moves the listener into a darkened corner of sound. The guitars are played like waves hitting a shore. The dynamics are spontaneous in calmness and loudness. There’s a voice whispering among the sonority. The introduction of “Cedar Rapids” shows samples of innocence. It is stopped by a sudden explosion of raucous whirlwinds. It’s repeated throughout the song. It begins to spread apart and become its own machine.
The Virgance takes masterpieces of music and scribbles them up into a brand new soundscape. This scenery is called “Lost Continent” and it’s the band’s debut. This is an amazing feat and there is more to come. The Virgance is a one man project by Nathan Smith. Make sure to check out this album before it reach the stars and become one.
The Equal Ground, May 2014
Nathan Smith, aka The Virgance, has been writing and performing for quite some time. Some of you may remember the band Ripley that had moderate success with the single “Get Out” in 1998. He was the guitarist. After they broke up he joined a group called Loveless, which eventually parted ways as well.
Most recently he released a solo effort entitled Lost Continent, which is basically the wet dream for a fan of shoegaze. It’s an instrumental-based album that tips its hat to pioneers of the genre such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive. Smith sounds best when he combines white shards of dissonance with an undercurrent of serene tranquility and nostalgia. This is a guitar album that knows how to achieve some of the classic waves of sounds you come to expect from a shoegaze album.
The album leaks its way into existence with the first track “Cataclysm.” Flourishes of ethereal sounds create an angelic atmosphere before the harsh frequencies of a guitar invade to bring dissonance. Eventually submerged drums enter the picture giving slight energy to the fog of sound Smith has created. Smith is just getting started as “Drowning Maya” reminded me of what M83 might sound like if he embraced guitars instead of synths. It is an impressive collage of overpowering sounds that can create a euphoric sense of relief. The third song “Her Reflection” is arguably the best song on the album. It starts off sounding as if you are on the beach on some planet a couple of light years away from earth. There is the overall feeling of distant expansion and majesty. As the song progresses and layers are added the sound gets to a boiling point as if it is about to explode. Smith wisely goes less grandiose and more melodic on “Hydrolagus” before pouring on curtains of white noise in “Cedar Rapids.” The album ends with “Leonid Memory,” which doesn’t end in typical grandiose fashion. Like Stars Of The Lid, Smith implements notes and changes that you might not expect it to go. The song lies somewhere in a line of polar opposites that battle for homeostasis. For example, the angelic vocals coupled with ominous feedback create a unique flavor of sounds that a good majority of artists strive for but never achieve.
This album may be hard to digest for those unfamiliar with the genre. It is all instrumental and may take some patience to see if this is something you will appreciate. That being said this is quintessential listening for fans for shoegaze, post-rock and experimental music. Smith nails the production and also avoids typical clichés while tipping his hat to some of the more notable acts within the genre.