Virginia Wing, named after the mother of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, birthed a beguiling psychedelic powerhouse of their own with 2014’s Measures Of Joy. Here was a vital debut by a South London-based trio who, unlike so many neo-psych acts taking influence from ’60s adventurers like Slick, weren’t checking out on modern life; rather than hiding behind phased guitars, they were engaging with – and attempting to manoeuvre a course through – a simultaneously interconnected and dislocated world.
Buzzing synths, Sam Pillay’s guitars – sometimes ringing, sometimes piercing – and the pounding drums of Sebastian Truskolaski combined to conjure up an impressively oppressive and chaotic sound. Alice Merida Richards was the strong but still presence at the eye of the storm, her vocals coolly aloof in the manner of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan or Marleen Nilsson of label mates Death And Vanilla. “You dreamt yourself as a tree… Each limb a branch,” she sang on Juniper. “You felt the ease of a life without doubt, accepting every dying twig as new-born sprout.” “Trust in your medicine,” ran the chorus.
Measures Of Joy‘s opening track The Body Is A Clear Place advocated retreating into oneself in search of inner peace when it all gets too much. But what happens when the body starts to fail and no medicine appears to work? As recording began on the band’s second LP, Pillay developed an illness, resulting in him suffering spells of dizziness, nausea and vertigo. It struck him that he could attempt to “loosely replicate” these feelings in the music: “the fallibility of the human body” became a concept to build the album around.
Such a concept was always going to favour a move away from psych rock towards a more synthetic electronic sound – what better way of depicting through sound a body decaying and falling apart than with malfunctioning software, than with a ghost in the machine? – but this shift was at least in part due to necessity, following the departure of Sebastian Truskolaski. Feeling empowered second time around and excited by the possibilities of using an 808 drum machine rather than a live kit, Pillay and Richards, working again with producer Misha Hering, set about creating the clattering, enthralling soundworld heard on Forward Constant Motion.
Nowhere is Pillay’s vision more apparent than on Local Loop. Beats skitter and topple like dominos at its start. There’s a pause, and then seemingly from nowhere a pop song bounces in; two and a half minutes in, this dissolves into a sonic purgatory with Parker seemingly falling, her voice skipping and distorting, unable to formulate words. Sound cuts out altogether… then jolts back into action… cuts… then jolts. The effect is beautifully disorientating. Similarly, when a menacing, lumbering beat goes heroically haywire halfway through Hammer a Nail, it cuts like a knife, or indeed The Knife – no strangers to a highfalutin concept themselves.
Miserable World is a comparatively minimal track, with Richard’s vocals more intelligible than they are on other parts of the album, less lathered in effects. The message is clear and hits hard: “you have to keep ahead in this miserable world, your time is too scarce to stay in one place.” The final three tracks – Move On, Baton and Future Body – signify a moving on and a passing on of the baton from one body to a new one.
For all its heavy themes, Forward Constant Motion is an exciting, energetic, surprisingly accessible listen. No matter how odd (is that the sound of metal poles being thwacked? What are those steel drums doing on there?) or cluttered the backing becomes, Richard’s cooed “ah-ah-aaah”s and “ooh”s on Lily Of Youth and the truly fantastic ESP Offline respectively provide unforgettable hooks. Grapefruit’s bright, extrovert synth lines even summon up the vision of an unholy Chvrches and suggest that Virginia Wing could go all-out festival-smashing synth-pop if they so wished. One gets the feeling they’ll choose a weirder, more intriguing path than that. But wherever they go they’ll be sure to head there in a resolutely constant forward motion.