Winnipeg's Virgo Rising Get Cosmic on 'Sixteenth Sapphire' EP
Published Mar 11, 2021Somewhere below the moon at certain twilight hours, you can see Mercury hanging in the sky like a false star. It's an unassuming little planet with a quiet, complicated pull; the Greeks deemed it the planet of the mind, a nervous messenger that reveals itself only as the light begins to fade. It's also the ruling planet of Virgo, the sign of the meticulous and single-minded, and its influence is felt all over Sixteenth Sapphire, the spidery debut EP from Winnipeg trio Virgo Rising.
Vocalist and guitarist Emily Sinclair and multi-instrumentalists Lauren and Jenna Wittman make quietly confident, interior music — knotty and intricate but never belaboured, their songwriting feels less like a diary than it does a brain-scan, a complex web of light put to tape. Across six tracks of bait-and-switch guitar music, Sixteenth Sapphire finds a place between Slint and the Breeders circa Pod; spindly, cerebral rock equal parts pretty and primal. Sinclair's lyrics are aching and clever, funny asides and sly subversions of the mundane that are as skillfully constructed and deeply felt as the trio's playing.
"Goat-Footed" lays out the band's MO from jump, building 30 seconds of spritely energy before popping it with a pin, all the pressure pouring into a swaying ballad. This game of tension and release reveals a band with a beyond-their-years sense of restraint and musicality, though their tendency to cut momentum almost threatens to pull the song under. The trio usually work best at a quick pace, when their knotty guitar work and mercurial melodies take centre stage, and some tracks — "Goat-Footed" included — are most thrilling at their tightest and fiercest.
The same can't be said for the gorgeous "Molly Ringwald Dances in the Front Row" which comes alive when the band breaks free a minute-and-a-half in only to top itself with a gentle coda of swirling voices and silvery atmosphere. "Headlights" mesmerizes at its stately pace, a glowering wonder that roils with organ and Jenna Wittmann's keening violin, while the gentle "Juice" moves like a nervous heart-beat; you can nearly feel Sinclair's face flush and pulse quicken as she rattles off the small secrets of falling head over heels. The band cover plenty of ground, folding an array of sounds — from the brooding psychedelic melt of "Sleep in Yr Jeans" to the post-rock churn of "Headlights" — into their spectral, wiry style.
Closer "Back of a Head, Body of a Couch" is the EP's crowning jewel, a series of dream-like vignettes that crests into a coda of warbling organ and lacerating guitar, like a shaggy descendent of PJ Harvey's legendary To Bring You My Love. Sixteenth Sapphire feels like only a glimpse of what's to come from Virgo Rising, a work that promises as much as it impresses — imagine what they could do with more time, more space, more sound. For now, it stands as a more than worthy showcase, an introduction to their shadowy little planet. (House of Wonders)