EP Review: New Zealand’s Bitter Defeat launch a veritable rocket with their brilliant EP ‘Minor Victory’

The Breakdown

'Minor Victory' is of course much more than that - it is a vibrant and carbonated collection of post punk tunes that are scuzzy, slightly worn and scuffed but so much fun.
Independent 8.6

Blasting out with ‘Light That Shines’ is a an appropriate taster of what’s to come from Bitter Defeat‘s new EP ‘Minor Victory’. Lauded by me last year, this is a hyperactive and anarchic track of joy: a new wave pogo-inducing rocket-fueled delight.

And what I love about this band is its lack of pretension, a sort of self-effacing, naive joie de vivre that delivers a pop master class. Typical New Zealanders. This track for example was inspired by singer Rob Shirlow’s grandmother:

‘Light that Shines’ came about from messing around with a riff stored on my phone, coupled with some words that landed in my head when I was thinking about the last time I saw my Nan. Nans are amazing people, aren’t they?
When you’re old enough to have really good questions to ask them, it’s too late.

Ben came up with the main chorus line which was really great and we decided to try a duet type thing which works really well I think.

The result is perfectly pure, heavy-weighted pop:

‘Long Lash’ – reviewed by me as well – is another example of the band’s wry sense of humour and skill at capturing the mundanity of life in a raucous musical packaging. Yes, it’s about the humiliation of finding rogue hairs on aging bodies – laconic and droll, just like the accompanying video:

‘Better’, with its rolling insistent raw guitars and the sardonic vocals, is pure-bred post punk rock. The vocals have a mix of a Johnny Rotten sneer and a Split Enz angular catchiness over a thundering rhythm section. It’s just cathartically brilliant.

“All The Things’ gently applies the breaks and veers into a glorious anthemic song full of yearning and regret – walls of guitars and wandering solos. At just over two minutes it pays a brief but very welcome visit.

The EP ends with ‘Street Light’ – a drone of fuzzy guitars and a driving, insistent speed with some discordance and chaos. Ending in the droll exclamation ‘Didn’t cock up’ followed by the response ‘Aye’.

This band is cool, they’re laid back and are highly adept musicians and songwriters. But you really get the impression they just don’t care about that. They just do a bloody brilliant job and move on.

The sound is low-fi, simple yet so expressive and ultimately fun. The genetic fundamentals, in other words, that seem ingrained in New Zealand bands – melody, passion and superb songwriting with arched eyebrows.

Shirlow says of the record:

Minor Victory is just that, really, in loads of ways. We managed to record it at the last minute during a lockdown-ridden year, after health issues and all that other stuff going on. I’ve been so lucky to have found a band who are into the same things as me with a similar outlook on making music plus the same level of ambition – enough, but not too much!

I think a lot of the best music ever made comes from the late ’80s/early ’90s, especially the ‘slacker’ bands like Pavement, Grandaddy etc. That was peak time for indie-rock, or college rock in the US, echoed by the Flying Nun-era here in Aotearoa. There were so many good bands around then – far out man! Sonically that’s where a lot of our influences come from and there’s definitely a DIY she’ll-be-right attitude in this band which I absolutely love, unexpected given that we have a surgeon and a professor in the band! I had never really sung and played guitar before this band, Ian hadn’t touched the keys, nor Julian the bass, so it was very much a ‘let’s see what happens’ type thing, and it really worked.

Having gone through a year like 2020 in which we juggled busy, day-to-day lives and also dealt with some pretty full-on global stuff, having an EP of songs that we are proud of really does feel like something of a minor victory!

‘Minor Victory’ is of course much more than the title implies in its self-effacing way – it is a vibrant and carbonated collection of post punk tunes that are scuzzy, slightly worn and frayed at the edges, but so much fun.

Bitter Defeat consists of Rob Shirlow (Guitar, Vocals), Ben Manning
(Guitar, Backing vocals), Kathryn Thompson (Drums), Ian Duggan (Casiotone) and Julian White (Bass, Backing vocals), all with strong connections to the vibrant New Zealand indie scene.

You can download or stream through the usual sources but (much better) you can get directly from the band through the link below (with all fees waived by Bandcamp on 5/6 February 2021 NZ time).

Previous EP Review: Nick Ward's deeply personal treatise on identity in 'Everything I Wish I Told You' is beautiful, empowering pop.
Next Track: Cynik Scald - City Nemesis

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