When I listen to Virga, I don’t perceive just music or a band, but instead, I imagine a place. A place to escape to, a refuge; somewhere that is mellow and fantastical at the same time. It’s a place where I can get some thinking done. The songs on their new EP are low-key but coltish with a certain subdued pep and laid-back verve. I’m also just a sucker for surf-rock! And I apply that term authentically for what feels like the first time in a while — music journalists have been a bit capricious in their application of a term like “surf” when it comes to describing the feel of a band that prominently features guitars (usually Fenders) with a lot of pickups and a rhythmic sort of riff. But Virga IS pure surf rock!
There’s also some eclectic and very melodic lo-fi indie-pop percolating on their new EP Vague Splash. These five home-recorded tunes deliver an effervescent splash of reverb, tremolo, rollicking rhythms, and some sweet harmonies. Rishi and Eleanor Daftuar (of Tanager) recorded these tracks (in 2019 and early 2020) and they were mastered by Jim Roll. The band includes Aaron Apsey on drums, Mary Fraser on lead guitar and vocals, Zach Nicoles on guitar and vocals, and Anna Parker on bass. But those instrumentalists are also invariably adding in whistles, water sounds, trumpets, keys, and a Japanese synthesizer known as an otamatone. In the end, it really is much more than just surf rock but it certainly has its moments where it nostalgically takes me back to seminal 60’s sounds of the Ventures and the Tornadoes.
But this is also a really crisp-sounding surf-rock! Some of those 60’s groups would lean into fuzz, distortion, and delay — and evoke a lot of grit and foggy exhaust with that kind of aesthetic. Virga feels and sounds like a peaceful pond in the clearing of a forest with orange-tone setting sun rays reflecting off its rippled surface.
A key factor as to why the music by these four Ypsi-area artists conjures a sense of solitude for me is because their music got me through the early days of the pandemic. Their song, “ITF” was released as an early single back then, with an accompanying music video portraying the band members wandering through an overcast Ypsilanti landscape that was devoid of literally anybody else. They were attempting rendezvous with one another at a distance of about 24 feet. In “Waiting for the World to End”, they harmonize in these winsome minor keys — a song about falling in love when everything about life and our understanding of it seemed so detached from certainty. It’s a beguiling song — it’s beautiful and waltzy, but also a little bit dark — but it sure brought me comfort in quarantine.
Another standout track for me is “Bierstadt” — which counterbalances “ITF’s” wistfulness with its ponderous lyrics like “I’m waking in June, the June of my life…I’m starving from new appetites…” And while the wavering and wobbly reverb guitars are still characteristically surfing along with the corners of this song, its rhythm and melody harken back to seminal 60’s pop-rock. “I bloom like a light from a new moon,” Fraser sings before the bridge. And it feels like it comes full circle — that this band released a bittersweet song and video at the start of quarantine, and here they are releasing the full EP towards the end of it with a sense of rejuvenation that the lyric seems to capture. But so many more of the lyrics sound like a soul that is asking questions aloud — the kinds of wonderings that we would do on a long walk by ourselves.
Maybe that’s exactly what these songs are perfect for — not surfing, but striding — long walks, long wanderings, all leading, inevitably, to untold discoveries.