Virginia Astley

Heatbreaking that Virginia Astley, a classically-trained pianist, got most of her attention when she was most active, in the 70s and 80s, through related-if-you-like referrals, and now finds her metaphorical entry in the proverbial book largely ignored. A mystical, intensely emotional force who expressed herself with a light, tranquil touch, she occupied a space between many others—Eno, Cocteau Twins, Terry Riley, Everything but the Girl—and, perhaps, as a result, was given short shrift.

I wish it weren't so; what I wouldn't give to have had her glassine voice, both delicate and strong, a diamond-tipped arrowhead, enveloping me when I was younger, flipping through old Kate Bush, keeping my eyes peeled for new Broadcast, new Stereolab.

She began her career in an all-female group called the Ravishing Beauties, apparently recording with the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Whatever they did commit to tape didn't come out—or, if it did, it was only in an extremely limited way—though a Peel Session is floating around out there. Rather baroque, refined vocal piano pop with a classical, choral composure.

Her solo efforts are what I find most compelling. Ornate without being fusty, airy and expansive without being a droney bore, atmospheric and immersive without being a cerebrally ambient exercise. It all oozes with soft, squishy feeling that's somehow snapped into a poised majesty.

Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一) produced her 1986 LP, Hope in a Darkened Heart, a fact that is immediately apparent; the incorporation of stern synth work is unmistakably his, and the added emphasis on keys could only come from someone like him, a fellow pianist.