Caught in the shadow of lost idols and shaken faith, pop is wanting some new soul. Now, Ostgut Ton might be the last place you’d expect to look for one of 2016’s great songwriting fixes. (“Singing along” and “Berghain” tend not to be uttered together.) And yet, here we are. Virginia, the Panorama Bar resident, as a new record. And it’s an utter triumph.

Virginia, here with a superband of great producers as backers, has put together something with real heart.

Great songwriting is not very often part of the discourse in electronic music, partly because often there’s not a whole lot to talk about. Dance music tracks might have the ghost of song structure hanging over them, loosely, but they’re some other animal.

Fierce For The Night, by contrast, is an almost dizzying parade of hooks – verse to chorus. Virginia, it seems, had a string of hits inside her waiting to get out. She talks in the press release about improvising in gibberish. And that’s where this comes from – tuneful immediacy. It all has the element of what to me makes pop writing work, that feeling, “wait, I know this already, haven’t I heard this somewhere before?” (I remember hearing Paul McCartney talk about having that experience writing “Yesterday,” waking from a dream and being sure the song in his head someone else had written. Whatever part of our brain’s gray goo gurgles up the best melodies, reconstituted from the collected consciousness of everything else, it produces that sensation.)

There are bits so unabashedly catchy you smile in spite of yourself. Before writing this, I had to keep thumbing through the tracks – like, surely, there was some weaker track in there, right? Uh… no?

A lot of this is retro, to be sure, but in a way that feels honest and intimate, like proudly wearing out your favorite high-school t-shirt to the club, unironic in all the right ways.

virginia

“Bally Linny” roars out its groove to start the record, with “1977” showing Virginia oozing effortless funk. “Subdued Colors” is one of the fresher productions, setting slightly more obtuse construction against a spacious, forward-looking mix. “Funkert” is genius house, maybe the most at home in Panorama Bar’s world. The titular “Fierce For the Night” works perfectly as anthem, as does “Follow Me.” “Raverd” has fantastic forward-moving mechanical energy. When it hits a slower pace, as on “Believe In Time,” Virginia can find some soulful melancholy, too.

For me, “Bally Linny” and “Funkert” stand out as obvious hits – but there’s never a drop in consistency on this record, or anything that feels out of place.

Led by Virginia’s newly-expressed pop chops, the album is a nice group effort – Dexter, Martyn, and Steffi joining in. And their production values shine through, of course. It takes technique to nail this sort of well-trod ground, and the breadth of those producers’ musical experience is part of what makes this pop breed so convincing. It wouldn’t work without some history.

Actually, I have to take real issue with the press release on this one, as it seems to dance around that – at one point claiming the record “playfully defies the schematic formulas of Pop.” (The one predictable thing about music is generally that press releases always claim music is influenced by everything and nothing and that it “defies” something or other, whether it does or not. You can try that drinking game with my inbox.)

Anyway, no, I think it’s exactly the opposite. Virginia and company execute those formulas adeptly. When we complain pop music is “formulaic,” what we really mean is, someone tried to make convincing pop and fell short. Music that we dub derivative is usually music that just isn’t good enough at its formulas.

And yes, this does work on dance floors. I caught Virginia at her release party, with Dexter and Steffi (Steffi also known for her regular Berghain/Panorama stints). That was before I’d given the LP much listen, and I found myself dancing and singing along instantly. No, it wasn’t upstairs in Panorama, but downstairs on Berghain – a litmus test for how this is mixed. Fortunately, that live act is touring, so you may get a chance to enjoy. Do not stand still.

Mixing and mastering is crystal clear, everything perfectly defined in space, whether listening on studio monitors or headphones or the Berghain Funktion-One. (I was earshot from Tim Xavier who did the mastering, and now having repeated listening on vastly different systems, I’m humbled.)

This is what happens when all the right knowledge and heart comes together on a record, when someone who can master the role of DJ and vocalist, producer and bandleader is fully in charge with all the right people involved. And that needs to happen far, far more often. Because at this point, the night demands nothing less than fierce.

http://ostgut.de/booking/artist/virginia

  • blacktrope

    It is a great album fro the first listens but I’m very surprised that you didn’t mention at all that it also sounds like an album from the 80s/90s. There is not much of a sound development that could distinguish the release from back then. That is the only thing that I would have wished for with an album like this on a label like ostgut. Maybe.

    • I did mention that it was retro… that was also my point about pop. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. It’s terrific hearing some space and dynamic back in pop … like turning the clock back on the loudness wars. And I think it’s primarily the writing that is retro, in a way, there is otherwise an approach to sounds that to me sounds present, if very clear about its references…

      • blacktrope

        You are completely right, missed that. In general I think it’s a relief to listen to a record like this nowadays since I think a lot of the soul of music got lost trying to be very Avantgarde with sound design. Even though it has proper sound design but just sticks to many instruments that have been around for a long time. I think my comment was just to spark a discussion about this notion that electronic music should always feel current in terms of the used sound palette. I just watched the Ableton Loop conference video and this was a recurring theme … So would there be a possibility to have an album like this with the same soulfulness but with sounds that weren’t that easy traceable to certain period? I don’t know.

  • chaircrusher

    Just heard the first track so far. Hampered by deliberate bit-rate limiting on Soundcloud. What it reminds me a bit of is Lisa Lisa and Gloria Estafan. Which some people might take as a dig, but I love that kind of music when it’s done well.

  • chaircrusher

    Also refreshing to see a woman releasing music under a woman’s name. The producer dude adopting a woman’s name is getting old.

  • Dominic Arkwright

    Am I being (gin-tonic) blind or is there no way to send SoundCloud to Chromecast on either iOS or a desktop browser? Say wha?

    • Dominic Arkwright

      Either way, let me just say, slightly controversially, but that’s the way I roll, I would rather listen to Virginia’s vocal stylings than, say, Liz Torres. There are few vocal house productions I prefer over their instrumental brothers.

  • Niall

    Between this and Dam Funk’s DJ Kicks mix, it’s a good week for driving around in your car listening to music. Traffic hasn’t felt this good in a while.

  • Woa! Thanks for sharing this, Peter. Immediately one of this year’s favourites for me. The perfect mixture of good songwriting, interesting and pleasing vocals, and not least a production that is spot on. I’m hooked!

  • heinrichz

    Obviously inspired by this garage classic, but as someone who was part of that scene i’m pleased to hear it..
    https://g.co/kgs/46n8M8