August 14, 2012


The cover art for Cupidity, the new cassette release from Portland, Oregon's Virgin Blood, is a stark, distressed image of several windswept trees. Something about the faded quality of this photograph and the arrangement of its subjects at the bottom of the frame beneath an oppressive, foggy sky suggests a sense of weight, burden, and being; softly smothered by the sweep of natural law. The trees rise and disappear into the wisp of a cloudbank; erased, blank, trailing off into a void as they ascend forgotten.

It's a fitting visual metaphor for this all-too-brief release, twenty-seven minutes of swirling lo-fi keyboards, omnipresent tape hiss, and sighing, reverb-drenched vocals. While the cover art and the recording quality of the music suggest nostalgia, a fond glance back at past trends and past seductions, there's more an ageless sense of organic decay to this music, an instinctual and primal swell. The emotion is maximal, but the approach is restraint, consideration, a featherweight touch. "I see the light from my window", Felisha Ledesma drawls at our solemn journey's outset. In an age of obtuse and opaque lyrical knottiness, it's more than refreshing when a tone of voice, a pitch-perfect delivery, can communicate so much resonance and depth in such simple, straightforward terms. This is heartsick and heart-wounding music, enthralling in its purity and poise.

The synth tones may put some in mind of Symmetry's recent Themes For an Imaginary Film, or the early days of M83, but again, this is not bombast, not epic stadium-reaching highs. This is drifting, ethereal glow, subtlety instead of retro eighties-worship, heartbreaking balance instead of generalized, universal sentiments. A more appropriate comparison may be David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti's mournful film scores. There's a hint of the natural, pulsing disquiet of Twin Peaks, hidden tension and an undercurrent of mystery like Julee Cruise balladry rewritten by Grouper (a fellow PDX-er whose vocal approach is akin to Ledesma's here). These songs can abruptly veer into frightening territory, as in the eerie electronic throbs and distorted guitar of "Dream Revisited" or the magical synth washes and thumps of the beguiling title track "Cupidity".

To use the term "haunting" in a music review usually constitutes cliched hyperbole of the highest order, but this album bridges far beyond "haunting" and into the territory of the more accurate adjective,"ghostly". Cupidity sinks gentle claws deep into your skin, pries apart your ribcage and digs right for the heart without hesitation. Years later, you'll feel the tingle of those phantom claws twitching, traces a connection you'll never forget. Using a vintage, analog framework without invoking tired "nostalgia" tropes, Virgin Blood leaves a lasting mark, transcending those influences to become a new and unique voice in underground music.

Cupidity is out August 15th on Florida's stellar Lava Church label, available in an all-too-small run of thirty, lovingly hand-assembled cassettes.

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