For a band that includes members of Mogwai and Slowdive, Minor Victories lack a keen sense of dynamics and arrangement on their self-titled debut album. While these acts have produced affecting shoegaze and post-rock for decades, this new project feels too simple and murky to create a similar emotional response.
The band includes at least three accomplished songwriters, but much of the album relies on straightforward verse-chorus song structures. "Breaking My Light" sticks to this formula with little variation for over six minutes, while "For You Always" is even more repetitive, as vocalist Rachel Goswell swaps treacly, highly personal verses with guest Mark Kozelek. Tracks like "The Thief" tack on the odd cathartic bridge, but it's hard to maintain interest in an album whose ten tracks stretch out to 50 minutes with such little range.
Drab production doesn't help. Plenty of effects adorn Minor Victories, yet bass and drums dominate the mix. While that lends opener "Give Up the Ghost" a driving momentum that suits its moody lyrics, the constant, heavy low-end clashes with string parts on songs like "A Hundred Ropes." As a result, tracks feel inert when they should soar, adding to the album's monotony.
Despite this, Minor Victories is still the work of consummate professionals. Goswell's lyrics are generally evocative, if a little opaque, and "Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)" sounds like a catchier Postcards from a Young Man-era Manic Street Preachers track. "Folk Arp" and "Higher Hopes," with their slow rise from tranquility to cavernous guitar squalls, would almost fit in on Mogwai's superb Ten Rapid. It's just a shame that these major victories are surrounded by so many minor losses; Minor Victories is good enough, but it could easily have been great. (Fat Possum)