Virgin Passages
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Virgin Passages

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Band Alternative Avant-garde


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"4/5 Time Out"

Rating: ****

Intriguing and promising release from this Staffordshire three-piece in which a series of EPs, four-track recordings and demos form a surprisingly cogent and atmospheric whole. At its best, the songs here recall the mantric trance-states of Animal Collective and although the record as a whole occasionally drifts too far into dreamy abstraction, there’s an effortless, almost subconcious way with a melody which keeps self-indulgence at bay. A debut album proper is due in 2007: on the strength of this, expect great things. - TIME OUT

"A breath or fresh air in the tired British scene"

Fire continue their quiet domination of the UK indie scene with the sleeper hit of a record from Staffordshire three-piece Virgin Passages. Yes they've got a silly name which makes you rather worried that they might in fact be a breakcore act in disguise but don't let that put you off, the threesome (hah) in fact make quite sublime twisted lo-folk sounds, something along the lines of Digitalis and Fonal but a little less... odd, I suppose. It's somehow still indie music but it's indie music as rendered by small elvish folk using moss covered instruments and pebbles for drums, so one minute we might get ambient drone ('Hate Hate Hate') and the next a twingy twangy ditty ('Oh Commodore'). In fact the album sounds a little like a collection of quite randomly performed tracks it's so haphazard, but it just about holds together and it certainly holds your attention. A breath or fresh air in the tired British scene I can only assume that Virgin Passages had a great time recording 'Mandalay', it's infectious you see. A strangely lovely and totally befuddling mess - I like it very much. - Boomkat

"Virgin Passages are from Staffordshire. But they sound like they’re from space."

Scientists, no need for further research and hypothesising! This is what music written by space creatures would sound like.

Not “Kill All Humans” space men (and one woman), but the “We Come In Peace” aliens from your average New Age hippy’s fantasies. I want to say that the music is 'airy' but that stuff doesn’t exist out in the cosmos, so I’m going with 'weightless', which is a far better description of the trippy, ethereal folk music this trio produce.

Mandalay's tone swirls and meanders from track to track (and indeed within the tracks themselves), ranging from dirge-like offerings such as ‘Like Dogs’ to beautifully crafted snippets of post-rock (‘I Want You To Sleep’, ‘Hate Hate Hate’), worthy of Sigur Ros’ or Mogwai’s more vocal efforts. Other moments are reminiscent of The Beta Band and Ooberman at their most subtle and they even offer evidence they can write a cracking laid-back pop song with ‘Home Is Where You’re Happy’.

The fact I’m reviewing this release under the ‘album’ heading is actually slightly misleading. The band is at pains to point out that Mandalay is merely a collection of past EPs and demos rather than a debut full length offering.

And the few negative aspects of Mandalay display the telling signs of a band in its youth. Songs sometimes appear to have been drawn out past their natural conclusion, resulting in a degree of monotony and a seeming lack of direction. As well as this, the discordancies of some tracks, although intentional, are grating and unnecessary from a band so clearly capable of a much more refined beauty.

For a collection of odds and ends that weren’t intended to be placed side by side, Mandalay is an excellent achievement. If Virgin Passages are capable of building on this in their forthcoming debut full-length release, they will definitely be a band to follow with interest in the future.

"this band is capable of great things"

“bringing to mind Jackie O Motherfucker, Animal Collective and Slint…this band is capable of great things” - THE INDEPENDENT

"4/5 GIITTV"

Mandalay is not the Virgin Passages debut album. That isn’t due till next year. Mandalay is infact a pre-debut compilation of odds-and-ends and bits-and-bobs – basic 4 track recordings, live takes, recordings previously released on E.P.s and demos. Despite the scrappiness of it all then, it is still hard to imagine with all the band’s visionary and well-formed sound that it is not their debut. Mandalay begins with the industrial plodding of Hate Hate Hate, a song backed with pan pipes, sliding strings and a spookily atmospheric background. It is nearly two minutes in before the boy/girl vocals kick in with the eerie “what’s this? I just don’t get it”. It’s simple but affecting, conjuring up terrifying images of bleak landscapes, similar in the way Kid A was so full of imagery. Throughout the album, the combination of James Nicholls and Sarah Naylor’s dreamy vocals keeps it going in interesting fashion without really dominating over the instrumentation. Mandalay is indeed largely instrumental with vocals only usually added later the songs if necessary. It is by no coincidence then that the lyrics are not always applicable to pioneer the imagery on this collection of songs; the music does it alone. A good example of this is the title track with vocals introduced well past the three minute mark. The slow burning music and swirling instruments carry it along more than pleasantly until then.

For all their instrumental atmospherics and haunting visions of hope and despair, it would several tracks in, be acceptable to group them as a sort-of folky Sigur Ros. However, by Your Home Is Where You’re Happy, it is clear that Virgin Passages’ simplicity and knack for obvious melody is just as vital a part of them as their weird instrumentation and eerie fragments of music. A live take recorded by a 4 track recorder, it is both wonderfully basic and unorganised. Certainly, at times it feel like the band’s improvising techniques and lack of planning is their greatest asset; on the following Part Weatherman, the averagely recorded clutter of multi-instruments feels as if a stack of amps is crashing down on you in a wall of sound. At times, it’s as if the band were made for the late 60’s – the folksy Headstone Progress and the ambient/psychedelic FOA are beamed freshly from 60s hippies, and despite the at times poorly recorded live takes, the entire album remains calming (even if feasibly chaotic) and hallucinogenic.

Mandalay is a constant LSD trip, albeit a dark, haunting one – the plainchant-like vocals, bassy music and strange overtones make for an at times down-beat and saddening listen. This is typified by FOA. There are light-shafts of happy hippie-dom too though – The Concrete Tracks, I Call Them Mine with its charming harmonics and xylophones team up with the album’s most Sigur Ros like vocal performance with dreamy, chamber music qualities providing the setting. At other times, the band sound like a combination of the spacey, experimental Spiritualised and the early, Syd Barrett led, psychedelic Pink Floyd, overdosed on traditional folk and weird instruments. As the album winds on the tracks become rapidly shorter (some, including closer I Want You to Sleep are under two minutes), almost as if to tease the listener with a snippet or preview of the up-and-coming debut.

For all their complexity in instrumentation it is the minimalist simplicity that gives them their cutting-edge, so I dearly hope that when recording for their proper debut the band don’t lose their improvisational skills in replacement for studio knob-twiddling trickery. Its Virgin Passages sublimely haunting folk simple-to-complex dynamic that makes them so great, and they should have no reason to loose that. Like Dogs (the penultimate track) sums up Virgin Passages wild-life ambience and as the album closes it becomes realisable that they are a truly special, local talent to be cherished. Roll on the debut!


FIRECD100 - Mandalay (12 track "early recordings" collection)
FIRECD114 - Distance (6 track debut mini-album)
FIRECD110 - Chamber Music (Compilation including Virgin Passages, Mercury Rev, Sonic Youth, Mike Watt, Peter Buck from REM, Gravenhurst, Ed Harcourt)
FIRECD200 - Horizon (full length debut album proper - due out on Fire Records (current home of Surf City, Giant Sand, JOMF, Josephine Foster, Bardo Pond, Snowblink, ESG)



Virgin Passages are a 4 piece experimental pop act from Staffordshire in the UK. Reminiscent of Animal Collective, Beach Hose, Spiritualized, early Mercury Rev, Broadcast & Electrelane and described once as the lovechild of Smog and Cat Power. The boy/girl harmonies and choral chanting has seen the band stuck with the unique tag of "Tribal Folk Rock" and the bands sound has often been described as "Cultish" The band were described by TIME OUT as similar in approach to Animal Collective and highlighted their track "I Want You To Sleep" amongst their recommended tracks. The INDEPENDENT broadsheet in England also warned of great things and admired the band for their experimental edge yet sub-conscious way with a melody. Their debut album 'Distance' was released on May 12th and recieved critical acclaim. Alternative Ulster gave it 9/10 and desribed it as "the equivelent of lying on your back and watching the whole cosmos explode before your eyes". The NME described them as "definitely not fated to pretend" in reference to their sucessful European tour with MGMT. The band was hand chosen by MGMT for their sell out Europen Tour that included shows [amongst other] at the Academy in Dublin and the ICA in London. In April the band embarked on tour of Scandinavia. On their return the band was asked to submit a track for MOJO magazines 'Acoustic Symphony' - a tribute to the Beatles White Album. In August they played Greenbelt Festival and in October the CMJ Music Marathon as part of a lineup of the best emerging bands in the UK