VIRGINIA ASTLEY: HOPE IN A DARKENED HEART, 1986

Hi!

Welcome to the first post on Myosotis! I hope this will be the first step in a journey full of discoveries and marvels for you.

The first archived record is a favourite that, in my opinion, doesn’t get the attention it deserves: Virginia Astley’s marvellous Hope In A Darkened Heart from 1986.

In case you’re not familiar with Astley: She’s a classically-trained British musician (her first instruments being the piano and the flute), born in 1959, who put out a few full lengths and EPs in the 80s. Unfortunately, her efforts were overlooked by most big audiences (especially in America) but at least found success in Japan. Today, Astley is more widely known for her many contributions for other artists such as Pete Townshend (she’s his sister-in-law and contributed piano to “Slit Skirts”) and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Her late 70s band, called the Ravishing Beauties, also included future Dream Academy singer Kate St. John and Nicky Holland, who would go on to work with Tears For Fears and Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame and who would later co-produce alongside Astley the very record we’re presenting today.

The collaboration between Sakamoto and Astley truly resulted in a piece of art that has no comparison and it also very much feels like both of them: you get Astley’s lilting, pastoral nostalgia (first presented in her gorgeous, mostly instrumental debut From Gardens Where We Feel Secure) on top of Sakamoto’s off-kilter, mechanical synth chug.

This unlikely combination resulted in arrangements that feel intricate yet also lush and minimalistic; with a subtlety and grace that is unmatched. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly make these tunes stand out so much. At first they all seem extremely simple but a more attentive listen reveals a playfulness and a richness on details to them that is just astounding, even more so when you realize that nothing overbears anything else. Nothing fights to be over anything else or comes out with the intention to grab your attention away from the rest. Still it somehow doesn’t end up feeling monotone, instead it feels absolutely organic. From Astley’s sing-songy, little boy church choir vocal style (that occasionally seems to follow a subtle Japanese folk melody; possibly a result of her move to Japan) to her lyrics, which are sometimes indistinguishable (as if channelling Arthur Russell) and surprisingly dark and ruthless (ex: “I’ve tasted your tongue like a worm from the grave / Had you inside me, then like a rock beside me”).

It’s a very rewarding experience – I feel like it gets to the core of something inherently human. I mean, just how can something this dark and heavyhearted feel this lush and soft? Even kind of joyous? Its intense emotionality is often veiled by how loose it all sounds but beneath that veil is something so impenetrable and cleansing that it feels more like a celebration of life than a wallowing in despair. Maybe it’s me reading far too much into it or maybe it is so damn pretty (which it is) that its darkness becomes belied. However, that’s something you’ll need to figure out for yourself though!

The record has yet to see a reissue but surprisingly it can still be found on Spotify if you prefer listening to it on there.

For everyone else, I included a preview track below as well as the entire record.

Have fun!

Preview track:

The full album:

Further recommendations on Virginia Astley:

Her Biography: http://www.virginiaastley.com/biography/

Her instrumental concept album can be listened to here.

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