Album Reviews

Small Victories – Holding On Hopefully

(Boobytrap) UK release date: 17 November 2003


Small Victories - Holding On Hopefully It really did take a while to get into Holding On Hopefully. Having been hooked on Small Victories from hearing double A-side Go Back To Bed America / One Day My Son, slipping their debut album into the stereo was like being given the keys to a Ferrari with Monica Bellucci waiting in the passenger seat, stroking the gear stick, staring back at you and pouting those wholesome lips…

Well maybe not, but the excitement and cauldron of expectancy brewed warmly. I was bowled over almost immediately because intro A Poor Man’s Opera (oh the irony!) sounds like it must have been lost from the mixing desk of UNKLE‘s Never Neverland for it to end up on this record – a record by the band who I thought were ready to steal Coldplay‘s infinite thunder.

But no, it’s no error. Singer James Chant is actually a DJ Shadow fan and wanted some of the überscratch-meister’s trippy funked soundscapes on record. Cringe. I was biting my nailsin pre-emptive distaste. Surely this would not work on a guitar band’s work?

In all honesty that was a hasty prejudice. The Shadow-isms, if you will, swoosh about rarely. Moreover, Small Victories are in that mould that’s “kinda guitars, kinda effects, piano and strings.” So what does this mean? Holding On Hopefully feels like an experimental album because of it’s sheer randomness. It goes from the iffy UNKLE intro into a broody piano and effect-soaked piece (Come What May), which starts things off properly, before the title track’s sludge of post-indie – think Mansun with hovering synth.

But lacerating these guys with that phrase “experimental” is far too easy and unfair – that’s what Blur are here for. Instead the music is forward thinking and well produced, as Kids’ Chorus reveals midway through the album, with its barebone drumming, lullaby melody and Chant’s resonating hum. Voiceover creeps back in along with some Jonny Greenwood-style guitar squelching. It all sounds grandiose and yes, at times has an epic tint to it, but just seems to fall short.

Some of the strongest moments are the Jeff Buckley ones, with Chant morphing into the late singer on those beautiful high notes. The first séance is on Thawed, with trickles of samples, dramatic strings and those valley glazing vocals. Battle Waltz, essentially the dance bolted on with some rugged plucky guitar work, is that moment where everything falls intoplace, where Chant’s soul wisp reaches those high notes and the grand strings and guitars piece snuggly together.

The Buckley sound returns to haunt on tender piano ballad Marzipan Fortune before the lighter burner, Go Back To Bed America, turns the album on its head with its fiery anthem. A real treat lies dormant in the minutes after the album proper fades: the hidden track is indeed a soul merchant’s busking gem, with Chant at his most honest and raw.

Small Victories don’t have the crossover appeal that will turn them into the Madison Square Garden Coldplays of this world. But for thosewilling to bother and appreciate it, they’ve made a terrificdebut album.


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Small Victories – Holding On Hopefully