There’s a soft orchestral sound on the song “Higher Hopes” by Minor Victories, a lilting part that feels like a closely held secret. It’s mesmerizing in its simplicity, hinting at a coming storm. It’s also the last song on a wildly uneven but ultimately fulfilling release that almost sounds like two different albums, both of them good for different reasons.
The first song sets the tone. It’s called “Give up the Ghost” and has lines about scars that won’t fade and the loyalty that comes from years of codependency. It’s guttural in the best sense of finding out how to survive in the darkness, what submission to authority feels like, and other things you learn living for years with a subterranean mindset. We don’t know the answers to the hardest questions in life. We know there are familiar “hands holding us” as Rachel Goswell from the band Slowdrive sings (Minor Victories is a supergroup of sorts and also features Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, as well as Justin Lockey from the band Editors and his brother James). You can endure temporary setbacks and wait for redemption. You can learn to live with pain.
There’s something remarkably profound on that first song, a slither and sliver of hope. I like how the lyrics tie in so closely with the name of the band, how there are lines about being emotionally shipwrecked (on “A Hundred Ropes”). It’s all about fighting for things, even if it is a minor arc toward progress, about forming new habits to replace old habits.
The music is a fine blend of synth rock with indie cred, and the artists involved know their way around that sort of musical mad scientist approach. You don’t hear other bands; you just hear this one. The drums are always driving and pushing the song toward some eventual conclusion, sometimes into full-on instrumental rock territory. “Breaking My Light” is also powerful and compelling in how it pummels you into submission with thin cords.
Sadly, things then go a bit off the rails. On some songs, the vocals are totally off, a bit like a certain presidential candidate you like at first and then realize is screaming in a shrill voice (you could argue that the last sentence applies to a few different people). I wish a producer or friend had noticed this problem, or maybe it was intentional, but there are a handful of songs that would have benefitted from a different chord progression for the vocal to follow. On “For You Always,” the whole album comes to a full stop with a guest vocal part by Mark Kozelek (or someone who sounds exactly like him, which would be really weird).
It’s a problem, because most of the songs here fall into an upper echelon of indie greatness. There are signs this side project could become the main project for everyone involved. There’s some beautiful string parts, synth that rolls off sullenly into a distant horizon, and a pretty mean glockenspiel on “For You Always,” but the vocals ruin it. They don’t fit at all. It makes the album hard to swallow in the end, like an amazing deep dish pizza covered in green onions.
That said, many of the songs are exceptional. I guess that’s my way of saying you should listen to snippets on iTunes and get the ones that sound good. Done and done.