The Virgance – Paradigm 3

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The Virgance – Paradigm 3

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 and 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. I’ve listened to the track about a half dozen times now, and with twice that many separate EQ settings on my music player plus the one I can alter manually I’m still unable to get it to a level where I can hear everything that The Virgance are doing, such is the density of the sound and overall effect of the recording and mixing processes.

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. File under … forget it, I’m just going to listen to “Epiphony” again.