Let’s play a little game. What would you expect from a ‘new' band which featured Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Justin Lockey, the guitarist from Editors, as well as his brother James? Sweeping, cinematic crescendos? Check. A fair amount of gloom? Check. Occasional moments of string-infusedly beautiful shoe gaze? Check, check and check again.
Your Clash reviewer here once made an album predominantly via email. Having done some initial work in a studio on the South Coast, parts of songs were recorded in studios on both sides of the Atlantic and then meshed together in to a coherent whole. It meant that I got to work with all sorts of musicians that, realistically, I would not have been able to otherwise, but there was a nagging sense that something in the piecemeal construction of the work meant that something was lost. There was a spark missing which may, or may not in the case of my songs, been present if the work had been completed by a team of people spending a concerted period in the same room. This somewhat self-promoting aside is relevant to Minor Victories, in as much as they themselves have stated that large parts of their debut album were written and recorded in a similar fashion. And it does indeed show.
How else, for instance, can one explain the presence on the same record of ‘For You Always’, the conversational biography of a friendship which sees Goswell breathily duetting with Mark Kozelek, a song Pitchfork have rightly stated sounds like an an out of place Sun Kil Moon effort, with the frankly huge, foreboding even ‘Out To Sea’, which most definitely sounds like a forgotten Mogwai tune? Elsewhere, early album highlights ‘A Hundred Ropes’, a driving, made-for-radio beast of a modern shoegaze tune with a fantastically-pocketed rhythm section and single ‘Breaking My Light’, a grinding, rolling mini epic appear keen to pull the album in a different, more immediate and visceral direction.
The best moments on the record, however, are ‘Cogs’, which furiously shows the full extent of the potential Minor Victories have as a unit, and the closing ‘Higher Hopes’ which, satisfyingly, features the kind of face-melting crescendo to end the song and the album that you would hope a project like this would contain.
And therein lies the rub. As stated at the beginning of this review, the album sounds exactly like you would expect it to. There’s barely a surprise here. Minor Victories may well not have been attempting to surprise. They may well have made this album for the joy, for the sake of making it, and good luck to them. Throughout, however, the frustration bubbles under the surface for the listener, that, competent and effecting as this album is, it could have been so much more. Here’s to next time.
Words: Haydon Spenceley
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