At last, a new substantial music project from Virgo Rising has arrived, and life is like a finely arranged downtempo indie song – or five.
Vampyre Year is the much-anticipated follow-up to one of 2021’s most warmly received local releases, the opening salvo of an EP, Sixteenth Sapphire. Virgo Rising charmed the local scene then and have sporadically enchanted young urbanites with live performances since. But the commitment to music on tape – literally, with their limited cassette release – was what’s been on scenesters’ beanie-encased minds.
On their newest release, Virgo Rising keeps dredging along in the murky depths of demure angst and prairie doldrums, kept afloat seemingly from sheer talent. Teamed with local production wunderkind Adam Fuhr of House of Wonder Records, the stars have seemingly aligned for a chance at bucking the fabled sophomore slump.
Has their long hiatus proven fruitful? In short, yeah.
That the title of this project was gleaned from misheard lyrics from another band member is a clever acknowledgment of Virgo Rising’s often imperceptible lyricism, provided by vocalist Emily Sinclair. Her waifish lilt helps define their post-something music. Instrumentalist siblings Lauren (bass, keyboards) and Jenna (guitar, violin) Wittmann, along with percussionist Isaac Tate, round out the foursome, and everybody pulls their weight here.
The opener, “Shoe” functions as a gentle re-establishment of the band’s sound. However, it’s arguably the weakest track on the EP. It’s a sacrificial lamb of sorts, establishing the “folkier” aura and symbiotic arrangement that helps differentiate Vampyre Year from prior work while refusing to assert itself like the following four tracks.
“Tristan,” the centerpiece of the EP, is the one most likely to climb the track listing of Spotify indie mixes in the coming year. It’s dynamic, comfortably abrasive and just genuinely catchy. The lyrics are refreshingly unobfuscated, a grass-is-greener-type longing for “the boy I would’ve been,” according to Sinclair. Everyone is honed on this one. Quality axemanship and a stand-out turn vocally cements this hook-laden dirge as a legitimate gem.
The titular one-minute interlude enchants then excites. It’s a perfectly calculated, triumphant climax for the record, replete with a herald-like horn section. It’s a fine welcome-back ceremony for one of Winnipeg’s more promising indie acts.
“Charon” is sure to please easy listeners with programmed percussion and bright waves of synth. It’s the most evocative of the bedroom-pop sound flirted with on their debut. And much of the promise of a more folk-oriented sound for this EP is fulfilled by closer “Nailbiter,” with local darling Boy Golden providing banjo accompaniment.
The diversity of the music here is commendable. Yes, minor keys and grungy strumming pervade the record, but this one rewards active engagement for some of the nuances in instrumental arrangement and affably abstract lyricism. This marks a bold step forward for Virgo Rising, at a time when many similar bands are content to rest on their laurels as long as a Friday-night performance includes complimentary drinks.
If Virgo Rising is as astute as their music leads me to believe, they will follow up Vampyre Year sooner rather than later. Not with haste, but with the same patience and application that resulted in their best music yet.
Published in Volume 78, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 2, 2023)