There seem to be infinite variations on the rock formula pioneered by Slint, Louisville's titan of the soft-loud fast-slow suckerpunch power chord guitar build song. There's no need to insult anyone's indie-rock acumen by listing them all; suffice to say there are elements of nearly all of them in the music of Victory at Sea, which is not exactly a criticism. All music is deeply rooted in what has come before (try imagining hip-hop if there were no James Brown, for instance), but it is how borrowed elements are employed that matters. Despite VAS' insistence on hinting at the entire indie section of the Ultimate Band List, the group makes solid, compelling music. Derivative, schmerivative.
Boston scene veteran Mona Elliot (formerly of Spore) formed VAS with bassist Mel Lederman and timekeeper Christina Files (Swirlies). After Files left the band in 2000, VAS quickly recruited drummer Fin Moore, whose busy playing is pushed out front on Carousel. This percussophilia has become a convention of Slint-influenced indie rock, and in VAS' case, that's fortunate. The sound relies on heavily emphasizing the syncopation between Lederman's workmanlike bass lines and Moore's backbeat, such that when singer Elliot's guitar parts become a little repetitive or simplistic, Moore keeps you from noticing with sheer controlled freneticism. His virtuosity makes even some of the weaker songs on Carousel interesting.
What Victory at Sea does best is evoke a mood. The songs are all minor-key--again, a codified element of Slintrock--and they put you in that "minor key mood," like when you've just slept for the last day and a half and your hair is sticking up and you'd sooner pee the bed than get up. It's the sweetly dejected wistfulness you feel for an old flame when all you can remember are the good things. It's, as Elliot puts it on "The Blizzard of '78," music for "the last time / I remember / us together."
Carousel was originally released in early 2001 by Dischord affiliate Slowdime records, which tanked soon thereafter, leaving VAS with no promotional support. Kimchee Records had already released a vinyl version of the album and then rereleased a digipak of Carousel last month, taking over the full gamut of label duties from Slowdime (and saving a good deal on A & R, probably).
Victory at Sea is now in the midst of a six-week tour in support of the rerelease, which brings it to 7 Black Cats on Saturday. If you don't already know you like this brand of cascading guitar rock, let VAS tug on your heartstrings a little and see if you don't come away feeling redeemed somehow.