If there’s ever been a descriptive term used commonly to describe music of a certain stripe, thrown around and up against walls like a one-man tennis match with a ball made of soil until it resembles nothing, it is “cinematic”. Apart from the fact that I highly doubt the next Sundance breakout will be itching to set a crucial scene to The Jesus and Mary Chain, it effectively tells you nothing about the music itself, instead vaguely making reference to atmosphere and sweep without referencing any of the character. So to say that Minor Victories is cinematic would be telling you as much about what to expect as saying that the band is a supergroup. It’s a buzzword, useful for nothing.
Made up of members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors (though it must be noted, not an original member of the latter), Minor Victories are in thrall to a particular period of UK indie music. The swell in the 1990s where guitars wanted to envelop rather than puncture, where drums keep the momentum with an understated march, the sweet spot right before Britpop went and ruined Alan McGee’s buzz. The style never really went away, of course, and you only need to see the rapturous welcome My Bloody Valentine received in 2013 to know it still has its audience. But the album sells itself short with it’s predictability, not really creating a new context for its various members.
I’d be the first to admit I have a bit of a sore spot for 90s revivalism, but to give the band credit, to my ears the album owes itself more to under-appreciated acts such as Puressence or Moonshake rather than copying what worked before. The production, true to form, is immaculate, allowing for an unexpected amount of variety. ‘Out To Sea’ obscures it’s vocals and builds to a crescendo likely to be a highlight of their live shows, while ‘A Hundred Ropes’ and ‘The Thief’ build themselves around motorik drums among the swells and lilting vocals.
‘Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)’, despite being possibly the most clichéd of the songs here, with its cacophonous drums and damaged-razor guitar riffs, ends up being the strongest song here, with a rousing chorus, and a guest appearance from The Twilight Sad’s James Graham, his Glaswegian brogue matching with Rachel Gloswell’s soaring falsetto to create a romantic synthesis.
Unfortunately, such triumphs are not found across the board. ‘Cogs’ and ‘Give Up The Ghost’ aim for directness and fail to leave an impression, while longer, more contemplative songs like ‘Folk Arp’ and ‘Higher Hopes’ sound like the band spinning their wheels, aiming to create substance through length rather than content. Worst of all is the guest appearance from Mark Kozelek on ‘For You Always’, his diary-entry reading at an open-mic style clashing with the sweep usually associated with this kind of music. Not to knock Kozelek’s style, or to say that blending the intimate with the ostentatious doesn’t have potential to be great, but if Minor Victories aim to be more than the sum of their more well-known projects, perhaps there are other facets of the modern musical landscape more well-suited to their dynamic, whether it’s those clearly influenced by them but with their own musical personality like Graham, or something out of left-field.
Supergroups in their best moments allow for the presentation of the familiar in a new context, Minor Victories could become that kind of perfect concoction with a little less reverence.