Minor Victories, if you haven’t read our review of debut single “A Hundred Ropes”, are Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), Justin Lockey (Editors) and his brother James (Hand Held Cine Club, responsible for the exquisite videos that accompany some of these tracks). Originally conceived as part of Justin’s intention to make a ‘noise record married to female vocals’, the initial plan to produce an EP quickly spiralled into the album we have here. Doubtless you’ll be familiar with the works of the respective bands, but, if you are expecting a simple mash-up of Post-Rock histrionics, FX pedal heavy shoegaze and broody Indie, think again. Of course, it has these elements, but arguably this album stands up to comparison with, and in some cases ahead of, the output of the aforementioned bands.
Opening track “Give Up The Ghost” sets things up nicely, all pounding drums, cinematic sweeps and world-weary, ethereal vocals. “A Hundred Ropes” bathes in the dark, scuzzy, synth-heavy elements that populate this album, a fantastic, frankly “Pop” (in no bad way, mind) song, with it’s “We’ve got to find our own way out” refrain. Indeed, a highlight of the album as a whole is the clarity of vocals, not something you’d associate with anything remotely Shoegazey. The only real exception is “Out To Sea”, Rachel’s vocals drifting like a Siren (in the mythical sense) through a haze of glacial ooze as it builds to a satisfying crescendo of noise.
The undoubted highlight of the album though is “Breaking My Light”, whereupon a heavy drum motif swells, threatening to overwhelm, before relaxing to a delicate piano and Rachel’s classic vocal delivery, before once again kicking off, withdrawing, and rising again until its finish.
Whilst being mainly the work of the four protagonists, “Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)” sees The Twilight Sad’s James Graham step for shared vocal duties. It’s a beautiful thing, made all the more remarkable in that like the rest of the album, neither vocalist was in the same room at the time of recording. It also has that sublime lazer wielding cats video, which is never a bad thing.
The second duet, “For You Always” featuring Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek, does sound a little out of place within the context of the whole. Recounting their 20 odd year friendship and it’s often clearly intimated “right place, wrong time” elements, Mark’s lazy drawl brings an intriguing counterpoint to Rachel’s breathy delivery. On first listen it is a tad cloying and does induce the odd cringe (and well, I’ve never been able to get my head round Sun Kil Moon..) but it does grow on further listening, not least in part to the understated nature of the music itself, which steps away from the “noise” elements of the rest of the album.
So what we have as a whole is a thrilling, darkly euphoric album, easily able to stand on its own two feet against the perceived, rightly or wrongly, “baggage” the band themselves bring. At a time when that whole, tedious, ‘ four white Lads with guitars’ indie snooze-fest looks set to hoist its carefully coiffured corpse above the parapet once again, its refreshing to hear an album not afraid to revel in its own noisy exuberance. As albums go, it’s a real statement of intentions. It’ll be intriguing to see where they go next, while juggling the “day jobs”, so to speak.