Minor Victories have tried to downplay their status as a “supergroup”, but as a quartet containing members of some of Britain’s most acclaimed rock acts of the past twenty years, there’s no escaping the fact. Comprised of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Editors’ Justin Lockey and his brother James, the band’s self-titled debut doesn’t explore the differences between their roots, but brings together the aligning elements they have in common.
In broad terms, Slowdive’s dreamy shoegaze is more delicate than Mogwai’s abrasive noise dynamics and Editors’ stadium-indie grandstanding. But there’s a lot of similarities between the three: they use walls of guitar effects to create volume and density, and there’s always been a drive towards the transcendental across their careers, albeit explored in different ways. Both aspects seem to be the basis for Minor Victories: over fifty minutes, the group use searing guitars, rich strings and organic electronics to make music that feels anthemic and broad. The one member who isn’t known for his musical background, James Lockey, is a respected film-maker, and Minor Victories is easily described as cinematic.
So, in other words – it sounds like what a collaboration between them would sound like. And while there are no surprises, it mostly works. At its best, the powerful textures – notably the interplay between Goswell’s reservedly soft vocals and squalls of feedback chords and heavy drums – feel majestic and sweeping. But it verges on opulent excess – ‘Breaking My Light’ is six minutes of gothic ambition that goes just a little too far, and some of the lyrics are the usual derivative signifiers of suffering and anguish, such as the ‘rivers of blood’ that run through ‘A Hundred Ropes’. The duet with The Twilight Sad singer James Graham ‘Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)’ is also frustrating: Graham’s booming growl is one of the most instantly recognisable voices in modern indie, but he’s barely recognisable in the sea of overwhelming effects, and there’s none of the lyrical poignancy of his own under-rated band.
Minor Victories is a lot more rewarding the further it moves away from expectations. ‘Folk Arp’ starts gentle and wispy, a moment of dreamy respite in an album of claustrophobic greys, and slowly crescendos into strobe-lit glory. It uses the same tools of strings and feedback, but it feels spacious and warm, marking itself as a clear standout. Meanwhile Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters) shows up on ‘For You Always’ and despite the unpleasantness of his voice against Goswell’s, it succeeds through its carousel xylophone melody.
The problem with Minor Victories is that it sounds too much like the work of a supergroup. If the balance is weighted, it definitely leans more towards Justin Lockey’s main band Editors: rousing, lighters-in-the-air, BBC6 Music rock. On one of the better songs, closing track ‘Higher Hopes’, it’s easy to get to swept up in the rush of evocative dramatics, and at that moment it feels like Minor Victories does enough to appeal across the spectrum of indie. But, as an album, it could do a bit more to sound less like an obvious compromise, and more like a thrilling diversion.