The musical supergroup concept sounds good in theory. It’s always exciting and impressive to learn that multiple musical heavyweights are joining forces to create something new. The expectations that come along with these celebrity rosters are generally the bands’ biggest enemies. Very rarely do the subsequently produced albums live up to any of the members’ past resumes. More often than not, they end up sounding uninspired, egotistical and not particularly cohesive.
Minor Victories manages to avoid some of these traps on their debut self-titled effort, but not all. Comprised of brothers Justin Lockey (of The Editors) and James Lockey, as well as Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Minor Victories came to fruition over the span of a few years and many, many emails. In fact, it wasn’t until it was time to begin rehearsals and preparation for live shows that all the band members were actually in the same room. For a project that was pieced together with such a lack of intimacy and at such a distance, Minor Victories has produced a very cohesive and impressively grand sounding album. This is an achievement that should not be overlooked within the parameters of what we have come to expect from a “supergroup”. It is heavily cinematic, with emphasis on atmosphere and texture. Lush arrangements and generous use of strings add weight to songs that at times border on monolithic. It feels ambitious and apocalyptic. It actually plays like an album, rather than a group of songs tossed into the proverbial hat by four high-profile individuals. But does it sound inspired? It has its moments.
The opener “Give Up The Ghost” sets a large, moody table. Pounding drums and ominous atmosphere progress into a fuzzy synth line and layers of guitar. Goswell’s vocals swell over top, speaking of hands that hold us, peeling skin and surging rivers of blood over increasingly twisted guitars and noise. It’s dark, almost creepy and it puts into motion a somewhat predictable template for the rest of the affair. Imposing large walls of sound, big drums and dramatic string arrangements pitted against Goswell’s weightless vocals are at the core of most of the album.
“Breaking My Light” is a grand ballad, heavy on orchestral arrangements and giant percussion. Things quiet down and make way for Goswell and a moody piano before crashing back into the wall of bass, strings and drums. Given the backgrounds of those involved, all of these musical stylings and elements make sense. Had you asked people what they thought Minor Victories may sound like before they got to hear them – they would probably have described something very close to what we’ve got here.
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s when the group breaks away from the familiar that they sound best. The stand out track “Scattered Ashes” brings Twilight Sad’s James Graham to duet with Goswell to great effect. It’s anthemic – sounding hopeful and upbeat in contrast to much of the rest of the album. “Cogs” follows up with a huge burst of ethereal noise and sounds euphoric, almost “Loveless” like. These songs trim away the bloating and melodrama of the weightier tracks, and stick out as the record’s best.
A somewhat out of place collaboration with Mark Kozelek and Goswell comes next and seems to be the only point where the record loses its flow. “For You Always”, adopting Kozelek’s latest stream of consciousness-like delivery, is an understated give and take between the two singers. On its own, it’s a fine song – however I failed to understand its place within the overall album.
Minor Victories get a lot of things right that collaborative bands tend to get wrong. The musical styles of the individual players are at once recognizable and well-blended. The album is ambitious and consistent and the stand-out tracks are very good. Still, I’m left wondering… what was the point? What follows this up, if anything? And will we care? The difficult thing about supergroups is that they bring together numerous individuals who haven’t got much left to prove. Understanding that they have already likely hit their high marks as musicians years ago makes it hard to get excited about a record like this, even though the music itself is actually pretty solid.
review by Matthew Poole