Dusted Reviews

Virgo Four - Resurrection

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Virgo Four

Album: Resurrection

Label: Rush Hour

Review date: Mar. 28, 2011

The stories surrounding the group known alternately as Virgo and Virgo Four are the stuff of legend: Two men, working in relative isolation from Chicagoís burgeoning house scene, create a tantalizing new strain of electronic music. Along with Mr Fingers, Masters at Work and a few others, their house envelops more than it tweaks or jacks. Credit goes to the largely hand-played approach, with only the rhythm section (if that) holding it down in a MIDI grid. A single, epochal EP finds its way to the world on Trax, followed by decades of silence. Why? Apparently demos sent to Strictly Rhythm were turned down, and queries to the local record store led them to believe demand for their work was low. The jams continued, recorded presumably on some multi-track in the practice space for 20 years, all the while their influence spreading. Emerging now from the bomb shelter to find the war has long been over, they suddenly find themselves in a new world, one where they are hall-of-famers, visionaries, practically back from the dead.

It would be difficult to overstate the quality of their classic material. Sprinkled liberally on eye-opening Soul Jazz and Warp compilations and more recently reissued in full by Rush Hour, the original Virgo Four EP suggest a cosmic dream of life that Phil Collins circa "In The Air Tonight" dares not share with his public. Sleek, restrained surfaces orbit a black hole of ghostly bass, gently propulsive drums and massive negative space. Itís called deep house for a reason. Essential, groundbreaking, mindbendingÖ all that and more. Obviously, a box set of unreleased material caused quite a stir.

The good news: Virgo donít suck. They havenít gotten into nu metal, questionable spiritual practices, trance, dustup wobble, pro audio solutions, scratching, rapping, guitar solos, live drums, Latin house, drum íní bass, Ableton or really anything new; their vibe and sound remain beautifully intact. They use more dub techniques here than I remember, which is a no duh/good call move, but otherwise it sounds like the biggest change since the late 1980s is that they got a more aggressive flanger.

The bad news: All the best songs are still on the original EP. The economy and focus of the Trax material is jaw dropping, and nothing here comes close to matching "In a Vision" or "Take Me Higher." There are a few songs on Ressurrection that would fit nicely nestled amongst that material, but the bulk of it sounds dispiritingly like preparatory, formative jam sessions. Take "In The Valley," which begins so promisingly, rising emotionally with every additional instrument. Once the drums, bass and synths have all found their places, though, the cut deflates into an awkward, unfocussed mess. A cringingly tentative solo is noodled out, the bassline shifts awkwardly, and the power of the song peters out into a cool, boring puddle. What happened?

Additionally, their stabs at lyrics are goofy and often embarrassing. Virgoís music suggests only a few topics: it being time to ride, time to get higher, and perhaps the bittersweet passing of life through our fingertips while we ride and get higher. Subjects like sex ("sex / rules our world / everybody wants it / everybody needs it") and crime ("Iíve got my mace / Iíve got my gun") donít hold up so well. It would help if their lyrics were stronger, but when they intone that nations are warring, babies are crying and mothers are dying, all I could think is that even the happiest babies cry. Shouldnít the babies be dying and the mothers crying, not the other way around?

Thankfully, Ressurection wraps up with a pair of slam dunks, "Forever Yours" and "I Have Always Wanted." The first opens with some awkwardly clunky piano that reveals itself as deeply funky when the drums kick in. "Forever yours / Forever mine / Like the stars in heaven / Weíll shine forever" isnít quite poetry, but it suits the wistful music well, and the track is strong enough to carry the lyrics. "I Have Always Wanted" should have been the setís opener. With majestic strings and a solid cowbell groove, Virgo clearly know exactly what they are doing and are loving it. Itís beautiful.

If itís true that Strictly Rhythm, or any label, turned these guys down because of this material, I have to say I both understand and think they are fools. Resurrection is mostly sprawling, often boring and occasionally enthralling. But it points the way to something so much more intense. That they remain so steadfast, so committed to their sound and vision after so many years is an inspiration. Hopefully thereís more in the pipeline, maybe some more polished work, with a little more focus, but otherwise intact.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

Read More

View all articles by Daniel Martin-McCormick

Find out more about Rush Hour

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.