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.