Album Review:

Virginia Wing / XAM Duo

Tomorrow’s Gift

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words by trevor elkin

Unlike Paris in Spring, Rome in Summer or New York in Fall, Bradford’s industrial zone in Winter probably isn’t renowned for its artistic inspiration. Yet for members of Virginia Wing and XAM Duo, that was the collaborative meeting place and creative space for ‘Tomorrow’s Gift’, a free-thinking album of gorgeous, transcendent electronica.

It’s clear from the outset that experimentation and shared artistic exploration were the primary creative drivers for this project. ‘Tomorrow’s Gift’ was sculpted from two day’s worth of improvised material – implying that somewhere out there, there is enough for maybe 8 more albums (but let’s not get greedy – one gift at a time). However, it was the artists’ mutual respect and, paradoxically, restraint  which shaped the final product, giving it a much broader reach beyond recounting the time Virginia Wing (Alice Merida Richards and Sam Pillay) jammed with XAM Duo (Hookworms’ Matthew Benn and Deadwall’s Christopher Duffin), as interesting as that alone might be.

Freeform, performance-based stuff like this sometimes feels soldered to the moment of its creation, limited and trapped like a bubble in amber. But, more like globules of Mathmos, ‘Tomorrow’s Gift’ shifts, mutates and deviates on each listen. The songs evoke place, time and movement – a sense of being inside, outside, underneath or above the randomness and unfolding of each one. Take the gently meandering path of twenty-minute opener ‘Birch Polygon’ – its textures morph from solid to gas, from a jagged, disorienting wilderness to spacious electronica, where snatches of spoken word lurk in its sodium-lit mists. ‘Look Again’ and ‘Melon Pan’ feel more spatially contained, like galleries for wandering, where abstract human life is on display. Elsewhere, on ‘Person To Person’, rhythm and meditative beats mark out the cyclical passing of time.

‘Tomorrow’s Gift’ is the product of the intuitive interplay between all its creators, including some skilful recording, editing and carefully-chosen overdubs laid down by close and trusted companion of the band”, Misha Hering, whose one-take, effect-laden work resonated strongly with theirs. Adding saxophone to a song usually brings a certain tonal colour and steamy connotations, yet it sounds less familiar on ‘Tomorrow’s Gift’. Voice, breath and saxophone elements all feel part of a single organism, a continuum of life and technology with hardly any separation between them. On ‘A Tunnel’ the sax adds both flashes of neon and gritty swarf to the fluid synth drone undercurrent, as Alice’s floating narrative is carried downstream. Of all the tracks, ‘Yesterday’s Guest’ and ‘Good Roads Fair Weather’ are perhaps most identifiable as songs, with a solid spine from which themes arch off and return. We might recognise their shapes, understand the words and sounds, but it is an ever-changing language, full of faux amis.

‘Tomorrow’s Gift’ is a true collaboration album, stretching the concepts and music of each respective band into bright new territory. It seems Virginia Wing and XAM Duo tap into the spirit of hopeful interconnectivity that’s always there, but which society increasingly chooses to ignore.

“I can see the future unfolding like a dream /

captured in the moment a golden era of empathy/

and I knew the distance seemed too far to reach.” 

‘Tomorrow’s Gift’ is out on 1st December, via Fire Records. Order it here

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