Minor Victories – Minor Victories (Orchestral Variations)

Ok, so when Damon Albarn tries out a new project (be it Gorillaz or The Good The Bad and The Queen, or any other concept) you expect something that will totally reset your clock.  I was expecting the same from Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai) and main driver Justin Lockey and his brother James (Editors). 

I know that they are capable of big, landscape wide sweeping, cinematic material and oceanic crescendos.  Also I know that they can do gloom and self-loathing.  And I know they can do indulgent shoe gazing jams.  But, so what?  What would have surprised me more would have been a bit of Celtic folk or some Icelandic heavy metal mixed with 1950’s jazz and a dancing gnome.  Or at least something a bit more, I dunno, different from their day jobs.  Anything but this slow, angsty dirge.  This is mere soundtrack for budding insomniacs.

Produced and engineered by Justin Lockey, and featuring some help from Mark Kozelek and James Graham (The Twilight Sad), the Minor Victories (in its original form) first released back in June last year as an extreme noise EP topped off by delicate female vocals.

Eventually it grew, and the Minor Victories became a 10-track LP, masterfully crafted by four band members who had somehow never even all been in the same room together until after the album was completed.  Brought together by brief meetings, mutual acquaintances and overall serendipity, Minor Victories created this album together by swapping ideas, songs, fragments and finished recordings via broadband connections.  Should I be impressed?  Not really, many bands do this.  Rhombus (a Wellington outfit) was doing this back in the early 2000’s.  Actually so was Damon.

And so to the material, For You Always, is apparently the conversational biography of a friendship – Goswell breathlessly duets with Kozelek on this big dumb mope of a tune.  I had to hold my hand back, to ensure I didn’t fast forward before the end.  I guess if you are a Mogwai fan, you’ll be happy to find one of their templates, Out To Sea, lurking like stale cigarette smoke outside a bar on a damp night.

I suppose I acknowledge A Hundred Ropes as an early victory – it’s a driving, iTunes-friendly number with a very cool rhythm section.  It reminds me of Swervedriver in their heyday.  That shoegazing, indulgent, self-absorbed rock tunnel feeling.  Perfect to escape on the headphones, at least.  And Breaking My Light is the perfect grunge-grind kitchen sink epic, at least for a few plays.  It’s a visceral and arresting in the first instance.  But ultimately it doesn’t last long.  I can’t for the life of me, remember anything once I put the cans down.

Cogs is their most cohesive effort and the closer Higher Hopes shows some promise – especially with the finale.  Jack Black would call it a “face melting climatic explosion of rock!”  I wouldn’t go quite that far.  It has a great crescendo after droning into life and getting up to speed.  It, thankfully ends this project.  And not too soon, either.

Ok, so I found something positive in all this.  I tried.  But ultimately, this is just boring and uncreative.  There’s little new or interesting here.  I thought the whole point of working outside the confines of their usual bands would give some opportunities to explore new horizons or reinvent themselves.  Sadly, no.  Move along, folks.  Nothing to see here.

Tim Gruar