It’s a crazy world; as we’ve become more isolated, social media has become a forum for people to share every detail, opinion and non-event that happens to them, a state in which you can often feel more voyeur than follower.
Virginia Wing’s last album, Ecstatic Arrow, was recorded with the Swiss Alps as a backdrop. This time however, the group – now a trio following the addition of Christopher Duffin – took the only available course of action left to them by recording, ‘at home, in our tracksuit bottoms’.
Their collective mission according to singer Alice Merida Richards was to make, in ‘private LIFE’, something unique from 2020’s nightmarescape of recurring existential dread, whilst distilling into its fabric influences ranging from Prince to Timbaland to The Slits.
It goes without saying that this process is complicated, even if what ultimately emerges is a record rich in sophisticated art-pop overtones. Opener I’m Holding Out For Something embraces the problems we face in squaring the mirror’s circle whilst a bold kick drum thuds affirmatively, Richards a bystander: ‘I know you lock the door when you’re feeling compromised/I’d rather wait until you can open and decipher why you run.’
Elsewhere, her free-associative lyrical storytelling is often opaque: Lucky Coin begins like tuning into a random TV channel, hazy with an uncertain need for help, before through the mist a plea emerges of, ‘I could use a hand to help hold me together’, whilst cryptic sounds bleed in from other lost, deaf and blind broadcasts.
This is an era when even these cries for help come to us on a screen, but reconciling that praxis is difficult. On songs like Moon Turn Tides and 99 North, brass and flute is employed to root the mood less in this present future, the latter a conversation between neat programing, a saxophone, some multi-tracked harmonies and Richards herself, like a journal being opened and then invaded by friendly abstract buskers.
Points of reference in this world are less than useless, but this Mancunian avant-garde with a small ‘a’ is at least roughly adjacent to Dust-era Laurel Halo, perhaps most obviously on St. Francis Fountain, its rumbling disco-funk like being stuck inside a club where everybody wants to dance but instead are forced to hold hands and circle floor until the man says yes, like a huge game of musical chairs, without the chairs.
Practically though, these are songs which are simpatico with the notion that losing it in your bedroom alone defeats the object; closer I Know About These Things finds the subject dislocated (‘I might just be/in someone’s sleeping dream’) and facing in multiple directions simultaneously, while the title-track is, by contrast, a brief but content fleck of luxuriant electronica.
Richards has stressed that ‘private LIFE’ represents the stuff that just came out, music created with the dominant backdrop of a pandemic but not written about its direct consequences, more on the subconscious manifestations of what it was or wasn’t.
Convoluted, fascinating, obtuse, intriguing, its many paths sometimes lead to what subjectively are dead ends, but maybe that’s one thing we should be keeping to ourselves.