Where 2009's First Love's intimate indie folk tales cornered the listener with what felt like a collection of personal diary entries, Virtue boasts a far more expansive but no less affecting Emmy the Great experience. This time around, the core duo of Emma-Lee Moss and Euan Hinshelwood were aided by experienced producer Gareth Jones, who enabled their musical imaginations to be realized to a greater degree than what was perhaps possible on their self-produced debut. Full of grandeur but never allowing the guitar, bass, and drums combo to be overwhelmed, Virtue is accomplished and captivating where First Love was immediate and charming. There is a step up both sonically and within the songwriting, which is something Moss and Hinshelwood have honed without surrendering to the trappings of anthemic cliché. Swaying more toward Joni Mitchell and fellow contemporary Laura Marling than Florence + the Machine, Virtue is a collection of songs that are built to last. Having spoken publicly of the last-minute breakdown of her engagement in the lead-up to writing the album, Moss' heartache is evident on tracks such as "Cassandra," where she asks "What use is love if it always passes?" with familiar clarity, while a newly guarded nature forces the audience to also expand their imagination if they want a clear view into Virtue's diary. Repeat listens reveal messages hidden within metaphor, as Moss admits to be "standing in the afterglow of rapture with the words that rapture left" on "Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)," where her vocal prowess makes the same leap as the instrumentation. The quality of songcraft is constant throughout Virtue, but there is plenty of musical variation on offer. The mysterious, sweeping sounds of "Dinosaur Sex" and "Exit Night/Juliet's Theme" are balanced by the indie pop simplicity displayed within the dreamy guitar sound of "Iris" and the disco-inspired "Sylvia." Meanwhile, the piano-led, hymn-like closer "Trellick Tower" is the most affecting, sublime track on what is a record full of reasons to replay.
AllMusic Review by Daniel Clancy