Last Summer, a surprise album emerged from a supergroup made up from members of Mogwai (Stuart Braithwaite), Slowdive (Rachel Goswell), Editors (Justin Lockey) and his brother James Lockey from the film production company Hand Held Cine Club.
Minor Victories was the name of the band and the album, and as you would expect from the line-up, it was a pretty intense shoegaze-flavoured record full of dramatic moments, not to mention really good songs.
Releasing an instrumental version of the album, Orchestral Variations, may seem like an unusual move, but the first point to make clear is that this is not the original album with the vocals removed, more of a complete reimagining, a total overhaul. As James Lockey, (who produced and engineered the album), explained, the album was made by ‘…stripping the songs back to the base elements and then piece by piece making an entirely new record’.
And a new record it is indeed. As if to prove the point from the off, ‘Cogs’, previously track six, (or the first song on Side Two, if you will), has not only been ‘promoted’ to be the opening track, but has morphed from being an up-tempo 3-minute wall of sound with vocals from the wonderful Goswell to a considered 6-minute piece of delicate instrumental beauty. Like a lot of the album, it would not sound out of place on an album by that other celebrated indie collective This Mortal Coil.
In fact, the running order is almost entirely different, the only song retaining its original position being track 7, ‘For You Always’, which originally featured Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters / Sun Kil Moon) duetting with Goswell on possibly one of the fastest songs he has ever featured on, transformed into a much lighter piece; in truth, it would be difficult for the casual observer to listen to both and conclude that they were in essence the same song, such is the vast difference.
It is a similar story with ‘Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)’, which originally featured the brilliantly world-weary vocals of The Twilight Sad‘s James Graham, (they really did select the ideal people to work with), but is now a barely-there piano piece.
It is difficult to talk about the new record without referring to the old, but it is absolutely a record that stands up in its own right; it sits together very coherently as an album and creates its own brand of drama, further highlights being the compelling ‘Higher Hopes’ and the beautiful closer ‘Out To Sea’, which ebbs and flows and never hurries itself.
Orchestral Variations is an album to switch off the light, stick on the headphones and completely immerse yourself in. Whether or not you liked the original, there is plenty to love here.
Orchestral Variations is released on 27th January on Play It Again Sam.