26 Feb 2015

The Virgance "Hiko Shrine"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

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.

"Hiko Shrine" is available as a name your price download here:

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