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On the one hand sweeping and allusive, on the other breathtakingly intimate and personal, Virtue is a dense, accomplished set of songs brought on by the disintegration of Emma-Lee Moss's engagement. Amid the swirling Paper Forest she sings the words "I'm blessed" with heartbreaking clarity; a kind of awestruck self-belief. Her delivery anchors the whole affair, assuming an emotional weight only glimpsed at previously.
Released through the band's own Close Harbour imprint and financed via the PledgeMusic fan-funding scheme, it is a far bigger, roomier set than debut album First Love, wherein many of the same players revolve around the core duo of Moss and Euan Hinshelwood. Along with producer Gareth Jones, the latter is responsible for the musical shift in tone. Softly wailing electric guitars and fuzzy basslines underpin many of the songs, which – married to Moss's plangent tones and a bevy of backing vocalists – creates a dreamy, otherworldly effect. If First Love sounded merely (very, very) pretty, then Virtue sees the pair hit upon something a little more idiosyncratic and unique.
Which is, you feel, exactly what they were aiming for. From the sultry, suggestive cover art to the wealth of characters and themes touched on over its 10 songs, Virtue is an extraordinarily confident work, even if that confidence is shaped by confusion and turmoil. Moss plays with the idea of narrative in the slow-burning Creation and delves into Jungian theory in Cassandra, talks dinosaur sex in, erm, Dinosaur Sex and paradise in North, pondering virtue and femininity all the while (A Woman, a Woman, a Century of Sleep is particularly stirring). There's a lot to chew on and conclusions are sometimes elusive, though the explorations precipitating them are unanimously enchanting.
On Paper Forest she sings of celebrating "The things that break us open and the things that make us feel." It's these things the record is ultimately concerned with, and she's never painted them as effectively as on the piano-led closer Trellick Tower. Moss's fiancé left her after discovering the church, and the song finds her alone in the flat they used to share, equating love with religion in an effort to work it all out. Resigned but never accusatory, it makes for a poignant reassurance that sometimes feeling utterly bewildered and lost is not only natural, but a strange and unmistakeable cause for optimism.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the original release there are ten tracks, making a sensible 45 minutes of music. The swoopy pitch changes of the opening track, Dinosaur Sex, accompanies a simile about cranes that look like dinosaurs, and about the fate of the dinosaurs (and perhaps about our fate too). A Woman, A Woman, a Century of Sleep is a catchy singalong about the prospect of becoming a housewife. Paper Forest is about the written remnants of the relationship - and who is there without an uncomfortable stack of letters or diary entries somewhere in the house? As the album progresses, the songs change to a nostalgia for that other land that is the past, for what might have been.
The final song of the original release, Trellick Tower, is a study in dignified acceptance of the way her fiancé abandoned her that will resonate with all of us that have suffered an inexplicable loss. Trellick Tower, incidentally, is a rebarbative West London tower block in the brutalist style of the 1960s, not a Cornish beauty spot as I first imagined.Read more ›
The component pieces come from cultural history, and from Moss's own perceptive insight both into the physical world, such as shipping container cranes like dinosaurs that fornicate in a futile effort to avoid extinction, and the stark 1960's brutalism of West London's Trellick Tower, which is a metaphor for Moss's vanished relationship. There are fragments of fairytales (and what are fairytales other than stylised ordeals - princesses that sleep for a hundred years, the path through the dark forest) and lots of religious metaphors: North is about the selfish exclusivity of the paradises that some religious people want to inhabit; Trellick Tower uses religious relics as a metaphor for Moss's abandoned state - the relics "ache for when the saint had breath". There are even some secondary sources - there's a quote from Patti Smith's Dancing Barefoot, which is itself a quote from the Gospel according to Luke.Read more ›
Like many great artists, Emmy is not one to shy away from the tragedies, experiences and nuances of life, instead utilising them to great effect, making her music incredibly mature and poignant rather than deliberately nonsensical and commercially nondescript. Thus, we are welcomed refreshingly and offered a delightful insight into Emmy and her many influences and experiences in an intimate and inviting manner befitting a friend rather than a fan.
The album itself is seemingly wrought with the dichotomy of life, the contradictions in our nature and experience that often make our lives what they are. The apparent futility of life itself when confronted with individual action against the collective of humanity, the pain of loss and its necessity in appreciating joy. This is often conveyed via detachment through fairytale and religious imagery, in a way that both evokes a collective nostalgia of childhood and home but also shows how we can all find it easier to express ourselves, sometimes unintentionally, through indirect rather than direct means.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
CD itself is great but packaging had wear and tear on it so couldn't give it as a giftPublished 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
Like Emmy's first album this one grew on me. Her voice is so intriguing. That alone makes this album delicious..... Read morePublished on 16 Jun. 2012 by The Includer
Althought First Love remains my favourite album by Emmy the Great, Virtue is a great follow-up and benefits from far-improved producing and mixing. Read morePublished on 2 Oct. 2011 by Smoops
Saw the band play live in Lancaster last night, very impressive, and am enjoying listening to this new album. Read morePublished on 26 Sept. 2011 by J. K. Cook
I heard about this singer on Radio 4, she sang a few tunes live and i liked her sound. It is easy listening unfortunately wasn't my kind of music whan I heard the whole album, so I... Read morePublished on 23 July 2011 by Baba Bunting
i'm torn with this album. certainly it is a grower and establishes Emmy as a mature songwriter and performer. Read morePublished on 19 July 2011 by jam