Victory At Sea
The ocean is like a soul. On the surface it can be calm or boisterous,
resigned or furious. The truth, however, lies beneath its waves. Its
inhabitants, masked from the surface world, are numerous and varied. The
undersea (and the inner soul) is home to thousands upon thousands of species
of life. Exploring this frontier is an enticing proposition... until you
notice the scattered wrecks the litter the floor; ruined reminders of the
fate that befell others with the same intention as you. So, when dealing
with matters of the sea or matters of the heart, one must proceed with
caution and awe. These are realms that the musical group Victory At Sea are
most at home in.
Someone once called Victory At Sea, "The Throwing Muses on downers". It is
easy to find parallels between the two groups. Both are from the New England
area. Both groups boast an amazing, unconventional drummer and solid bass
playing (V@S formidable rhythm section comes from Christina Files**and Mel
Lederman, respectively). Both feature a female singer/songwriter/guitarist
with a hypnotic stage presence (in this case, Mona Elliott). Both women also
employ arpeggiated telecaster guitar work (there are almost no chords to be
found anywhere). But while the Muses could be remarkably down, they could
also be hyper and up. Victory At Sea is almost exclusively down.
Two German poetic words, normally applied to Romantic artsong tradition,
could also be applied to Victory At Sea: Sturm und Drang (storm and stress)
and Angst. Both Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann wrote song cycles (a
series of songs centering on a common theme and sometimes even telling a
story) detailing the bipolarity of a person who feels deeply; a young
person, full of hope, eagerly awaiting a chance to see his or her lover in
the first song, suddenly becoming frustrated and paranoid and raging the next
song. Victory At Sea are modern rock purveyors of these themes. These are
ideas of hopelessness and despair that almost anyone can identify with, even
if we have problems expressing them. Perhaps this is why this band is so
Musically, you have heavy, HEAVY slow tempos, almost as if the group is
carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders. The titles of their two
releases thus far, also clue you into their bitter struggle: Easier Than
Living (Villa Villakula Records) and The Dark is Just the Night (Slowdime
Some song examples: The title track of Easier Than Living discusses the
drudgeries of a day-to-day job that accompanies a person from youth into
early middle age. The drum part suggests the machinery of work; an assembly
line, grinding up dreams and spitting out drones.
The song "Snow" could really be called "SLOW". In classical terminology,
this tempo marking is called Grave, usually employed in dirge sections meant
to suggest a funeral march. This song is twice as slow, dark and heavy as
anything recorded by Black Sabbath and much more poignant; you tend to take
Victory At Sea more seriously for some reason.
"Old Plans" is the menacing opening of Dark is just the Night. A driving
beat using only snare and bass drum properly establishes the tension;
rimshots crack at the air, like the lightning bolts featured on the cover
art. The bass and guitar enter in unison but slide up to bent notes and half
steps, like a metal spring contracting and uncoiling. Throughout this song
and the album, Mona's occasional distortion makes the guitar sound like its
crapping out on her; maybe its dying...
"Carry Your Heart" is the title of a beautiful John Duke song, expressing the
idea of true love staying strong through seperation. Mona's song of the same
title is a complete contrast; To "Carry Your Heart", in her mind is an
almost overwhelming burden that must be done nonetheless no matter how much
it hurts. Musically, this song is a showcase for the orchestral drumming of
Christina Files. The triplet rimshot of the snare, the use of the ride bell
ornamenting the guitar notes like chimes as well as the combination of bass
drum and bass guitar hits; this song is the greatest example of Files'
musicianship in playing the set as percussion instrument as opposed to just a
set of drums.**
"Further From Here" is probably the closest thing to upbeat one could get
with this band. It opens with a guitar line in 10 (3+2+5). Once this is
established, an actual groove occurs during the verses courtesty of Mel
Lederman on bass, chugging the song along as Mona's guitar keeps strict
rhythm. A very memorable chorus also happens featuring the harmonized vocals
of Ms. Eliott.
"Under the Surface (of the Sea)" is a bizarre and unsettling little tune.
The bass and guitar play in unison rhythmically but feature clashing
dissonances harmonically. In general the trebley tone of the bass guitar at
times makes it almost indistinguishable from the guitar, creating more
to the melancholy fabric.
Victory At Sea's music is comforting but can also be dangerous in the wrong
hands. Music like this might be more apt to make someone slit their wrists
than some Judas Priest or Ozzy record in the 80's. This is the soundtrack of
brooding despair, angst and ennui (French term). One must be prepared to
feel deeply and get in touch with their dark side. To find comfort in the
cold, in the rain, in solitude and in loneliness. To achieve rest, for rest
brings an end to pain. Resignation is acceptance.
The sea can be both tempest tossed and calm. It can destroy hopes and dreams
but it can also provide inspiration and instill a sense of awe and wonder.
Victory At Sea cannot possibly be more aptly named.
(*ed. note - it bummed me out when I recently heard that Christina Files is
no longer drumming for Victory At Sea. To me she is an essential ingredient
to this music and cannot easily be replaced. Hopefully, whoever comes on
board is aware and respectful of the massive shoes he or she needs to fill.
Christina has also played guitar for the Swirlies and produced records by
Mary Timony and the Wicked Farleys)
******** the following is an update as of 09-12-00 ********
Victory At Sea (addendum to the addendum) I got a chance to see V@S with new
drummer Finley Moore. Moore is an amazing musician and the closest thing to
Keith Moon I've yet to see. Rather than compromise their delicate sound to
accomodate Moore's frenzied flailing, V@S has instead opted to come up with
an entire set of new tunes. For better or for worse (not sure yet) this is
an almost completely different band. I need to see them with Moore some more
before I can tell whether I really dig it or not. But there's no denying
Moore's formidable talent and ability.
Written By: Sir Brian C.