Mogwai and Slowdive are two bands that inspire rabid devotion. It was this frenzied support that carried over when Minor Victories announced their formation on social media in 2015. Rachel Goswell (Slowdive) and Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai) joined forces with brothers James (Hand Held Cine Club) and Justin Lockey (Editors) to form a band that would take elements of each previous members incarnations. The result was a good but not quite spectacular album of shoegaze-meets-post-punk. The formula eschewed the experimental nature of Mogwai and Slowdive and instead it was the Lockey brother’s pop-rock sensibilities that came to the fore.
You can forgive us for feeling slightly worried, then, by the news that on this reconfiguration of their debut album, Goswell and Braithwaite have taken even more of a step back. Instead, Justin Lockey goes it alone. “I don't really know that much about music in terms of theory, notes, scales,” Lockey confessed. “I generally just fuck about with things until it sounds right to my ear.”
Viewed through that lens the album may seem like a bit of a disappointment. Relying on the inner strength of the previous material is dangerous ground for Lockey. There’s no pulsating wall of sound or heavenly glacial vocals laden on top to unfurl the songs underneath. Instead the songs and even the track list have been turned inside out, stripped to their core and launched as a series of neo-classical compositions that channel the work of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich.
‘Give It To The Ghost’ with that monstrous, strutting drum beat taken out of it still contains a shining melody layered with fluttering plucked strings. The subtle transformations soar above the melody adding a surprising emotional intensity. The deft xylophonic percussion playing underneath completes a gorgeous, near perfect moment of ambient exaltation.
‘Breaking My Light’ is thrust upon the listener with a metronomic intensity subdued by sweeping violins. Despite ‘Orchestral Variations’ undoubted beauty, it feels more like a movie soundtrack then a stand alone album. It requires a visual accompaniment to replace the loss of Goswell’s vocals. Something that entices and expands on the musical landscapes created.
‘Orchestral Variations’ is less immediate than its forefather. There’s no arresting sonic onslaught to make you stick through the 59-minute running time. It’s tranquil and very pretty like a trip to the beach in the middle of an English winter. If you can stand the cold and the stillness then you may find yourself lulled into a hypnotic state. There’s nothing that lifts it from being middle of the road Einaudi. Then again, standing on a cliff listening to middle of the road Einaudi is never a bad place to be.
Words: Richard Jones
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