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    [ Victory at Sea ]


    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 enthralling.

    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 Records).

    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 texture 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.