Died a Patriot
The album High Wires is available at:
Writers’ Strike- 9.2
No Great Shakes- 9.3
Concept Car– 9.3
Died a Patriot– 9.4
High Wires- 9.4
Ended with Theft- 9.3
Spring Bulletin- 9.2
The North Fall- 9.4
Lancaster Gate– 9.3
Wherever She Writes- 9.3
Died a Patriot, High Wires, The North Fall
Died a Patriot
20th July, 2015
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
All songs written by John Sibley.
Recorded and Produced by John Sibley. London 2015
Unmanned Aerial Vinyl 2015. UAV-VKLP002
IT is always good revisiting an act…
that I have previously assessed- to see how they are progressing. Music- or in this age at least- is defined by short-term lust: acts tend to come and go; there is a lot of transitory appeal; artists dissipate before you know it- before a new one comes along. If you can remain and pervade- stick in the imagination and keep producing work- you are onto something. It may be an over-simplification, but most new artists tend to not last too long- only a selected few last the distance. I guess it is the nature of the beast: with the competition out there- and the amount of money needed to record music- it is inevitable in a sense. That seems to be the impression I get (when looking at the new acts of the mainstream) yet new-new music- acts of the underground; away from the mainstream- do things a little differently- there is less pressure to succeed here. Those starting out are building up their name; just beginning their careers: as a result, they are determined to produce music and keep stamping out songs- without the same huge pressures you get in the mainstream. I have said it in previous pots- with regards pressures musicians face- some do fail; some acts and bands suffer dislocation and collapse- it is a sad reality of music. However, there are a lot of great artists coming out: acts that are producing a lot of music; look ahead to the future- determined to stick around. This brings me to Victory Kicks- the brainchild of John Silbley- whom I have reviewed before (their debut E.P. Emergency Noise was released in June of last year). Since Emergency Noise, the band has released The Young Flood: their follow-up E.P. that was received with plaudits and praise. Before I continue, let me give you some insight (into the four-piece) in their own words:
“Victory Kicks started life in early 2013 as a home recording project for songwriter and guitarist John Sibley. After writing a large number of songs and realizing that waiting around for a record deal would mean that most would inevitably be forgotten, John decided to start piecing a recording studio together at home. Old songs were finished off and new songs were written and often recorded the same day with John handling vocals, guitar, bass and drums as well as production duties and working out how to do the latter as he went. Early EP’s and singles containing short, lo-fi pop songs were recorded and shared amongst friends and family.
Victory Kicks then went from solo project to band with the addition of friends from other London based acts and established its own record label with the release of its first official EP, Rockets for Ghosts in July 2013. Comprising seven home recorded tracks of short, catchy indie rock, Rockets for Ghosts was a success for the band garnering favourable reviews and receiving airplay for the first time on stations in both the UK and the US. Ghosts was followed by the release of three singles, including the song Radio Saves which saw the band make its debut appearance on BBC radio playlists.
Taking the decision to record music at home would allow the band the flexibility to record new songs as and when they were written and since the release of its debut EP in 2013 Victory Kicks has built something of a reputation for prolificacy – 2014 has already seen a full length album called The Decibel Age as well as a seven track EP called Emergency Noise. A third record called The Young Flood will be released on November 17th. Today, Victory Kicks is a four piece band consisting of old friends making home recorded music whenever possible.”
Victory Kicks intrigue me for two reasons: they have a lo-fi, ‘90s-influenced sound; they have a low key presence among social media channels. There are few bands that tend to portray a ‘lo-fi’ sound: music that is neither heavy and urgent or more gentle and sedate. Victory Kicks have plenty of presence and force: they tend to concern themselves with mixing beauty and nuance; passion and thought-provoking sounds- without coming across too strongly. The boys still retain their key ideals: recording music that sounds home-made made and honest; sparse and raw- free from the peripheries and baubles of modern studios. Every track sounds intimate and homely: the quartet is one of the few bands that have an honest and vintage recording sound- giving inspiration and guidance to bedroom kings and queens. Whereas at the beginning- Sibley was recording all the parts/components in his bedroom- he has the support of the band; yet Victory Kicks has lost none of its hallmarks and trademarks- that distinct sound is very much in place. That mixture of ‘90s-cum-modern-day influence does wonders: sprinkling mid-‘90s Grandaddy with early-career Guided by Voices is an intriguing blend. I hope the resulting months see the band expanding their social media pages: maybe stamping an official website; getting involved more on YouTube: exploiting and utilising what is on offer; given the fans a glimpse into their lives. The band has produced plenty of music, yet remains borderline-anonymous: their Facebook page shows few photos (of Silbley and gang); no tour dates or gig information- just the music itself. It is always important to focus on the music, yet I would like to know more about V.K.: where they will be playing next; a little bit more of the ‘personal’.
When you look at influences/other acts- that you can compare and tie to Victory Kicks- there are a few possibilities. The shimmering and wistful sound of Grandaddy- and particularly albums like Sumday– has influenced Sibley: High Wires has that Grandaddy-esque pairing of rural calm and sympathy for lost souls (plus touching on modern themes like technology and its effect on society). Grandaddy’s finest moment was The Sophtware Slump focused on technology and machinery: the detrimental effect on society; requiems that were sympathetic and cautionary- songs that saw humans being alienated and replaced (by technology). Sibley has a similar voice and style: touching on modern concerns and social issues with a mixture of intelligence and passion; rich melodies and aching vocals. When Wilco released Summerteeth (in 1999) it was lauded for its beauty and sparsity- that bellied the studio craftsmanship that helped spawn it. Both lush and sweeping, intimate and lo-fi, the album was a commercial hit. The pastoral themes and focused song-craft resonated throughout; the album is a symphony of beauty and alienation. British Sea Power- a Brighton-based act formed in 2000- hit their stride around Open Season and Do You Like Rock Music? The music is rough-hewn and honest; organic and vintage- music designed for the people (rather than a particular individual). Victory Kicks have managed to borrow influences from the above acts, yet they are their band.
Died a Patriot begins with a charming and gripping rush: the introduction mixes chugging guitars and driving force; punchy percussion- marrying the ‘90s grace of Grandaddy and R.E.M. with Victory Kicks’ patented blends (that has been evident in their past work). Not too forceful and overwrought, instead the listener is teased in; seduced and hooked- fascinated as to what (is to) come. Initial lyrics look at new beliefs and clarity; one-track minds and mortality- our hero’s voice is packed with emotion and urgency. There is some obliqueness and mystery to begin: it is not instantly clear what Sibley (is referring to). You sense some political and personal strife; a mind that is clouded and confused- in need of, in his own words, “a new belief.” The vocals have a breathy and light quality; Sibley aches and yearns- but never seems overwrought. Mortality and death are looked at- never in a mordent or depressing way- with the hero wanting to “die a patriot”- “sometime/somewhere.” One of the track’s great strength is its simplicity and format: it is largely an instrumental track to start. From the introduction- to the closing moments- that propelling and gripping (instrumental coda) seems to ruminate hard- and win most focus. Both breezy and light; jagged and sharp- it is a score that is addictive and memorable. Sibley keeps his lyrics focused and sparse- the entire track contains fewer lines and lyrics than a lot of their previous tracks. Themes of dislocation and questioning come around; mortality and meaning feature large- our hero looks for meaning and resolution. Towards the half-way mark, there is this sense of loss: our hero needs a new belief; something meaningful and new- seemingly disaffected and adrift. Caught between “high and low” you start to show sympathy (for our front-man); hope that he finds resolve and safety- his mind is confused and shadowed. Either a personal plea- or a reflection of modern society- there is that search for meaning. Sibley spends his days seeking stable ground: as life is, things need to improve. Mixing in shades of Wilco and British Sea Power, Died a Patriot pairs reflective and pastoral sounds with sweeping emotions- grabbing the listener and demanding them to take notice. The band takes great trouble when it comes to the composition and componence: the entire song sounds well-rehearsed and considered; expertly crafted. Being Victory Kicks, that perfectionism comes with loose and live: the band make everything sound natural and live-sounding. Part of your mind focused on the lyrics themselves: wondering about their true meaning; pining for the front-man’s plight. The other part (of your mind) looks at the composition: that endlessly fascinating mix of bonhomie and stir; emotion and uplift. Keeping his card close to his chest, Sibley’s words take on several meanings: on a personal level there is dislocation and loss; on a wider scale there is political and social unrest- something we can all relate to. Died a Patriot is a typically assured slice of Victory Kicks authority: a song that perfectly sums High Wires up. The stand-out from their album, it is a perfect introduction to the band- and what potential they have.
High Wires is as striking and memorable as its album art: an album that does not shout and scream; it does not just fade and fizzle- instead it slow-burns and compels; demands some repeated investigation (and hooks you with its minimalism and lo-fi charm). Most of the ten tracks are short and tight; no song runs on and outstays its welcome: the entire album is defined by its economy and brevity- by the end you are left wanting more (the guys tease that out of you). A lot of modern acts trend to put out too much; produce lengthy tracks (and long albums) – by the end you are somewhat bored and annoyed. Victory Kicks are an intuitive and intelligent act: they know how to put out their message without needless showiness and loquaciousness- High Wires is a focuses and memorable album. Sibley has developed and improved as a songwriter: the hooks and melodies are stronger (and more memorable); his lyrics are more compelling and gripping- the songs more diverse and multifarious. The band’s core sound is in place, yet Sibley has managed to both sound more original- fewer nods to his heroes and influences- and bold: his vocals seem more confident and passionate; the production values are stronger and sharper- whilst coming across as live-sounding and bare. I was a big fan of Emergency Noise- and saw The Young Flood as a noble effort- yet find High Wires (to be the band’s) finest work. Emergency Noise seemed a little long- it was a seven-track E.P. – and has the odd filler; The Young Flood improved on this- as of now, the group has truly hit their stride. It is not just the songs that have struck me, but the sound itself: how many other acts have that home-recorded sound and majesty, whilst producing songs that are festival-ready and anthemic? Excelsior to Sibley, who has managed to craft quite a special album: one that hits you upon a cursory spin; reveals magic and layers upon further investigation- and keeps on providing little insights. I love a lot of the current crops- Everything Everything’s latest L.P. is filled with technoclour passion and rushing sonics; lyrics that are more downbeat and introspective- yet it is great to promote the underground: great artists that are working hard and pressing on. It is only a matter of time before Victory Kicks are infiltrating the festival scene: playing alongside some of the best acts of the moment. The fact that they not only keep getting better yet show no signs of slowing is encouraging- I predict the band will be making music for many years to come. Sibley and co. has a natural and unique voice that is hard to fault: music designed for the masses without pretention or fakery. High Wires’ strongest moments- Died a Patriot and the title track- occurs in the middle of the L.P.; Writers’ Strike is a perfect opener- Whenever She Writes a graceful and memorable swansong. With no filler or weak moment, what you have is a consistent and studied effort- each track has a very Victory Kicks feel; nothing is forced or disingenuous. Originality and consistency are what makes the band: although each song sounds fairly similar (in the sense there is no great sonic or lyrical leap) that works in their favour- you never feel the band is betraying itself or trying to please too hard. Sibley is a natural songwriter with a keen ear (and sharp pen) which comes across throughout the album. What comes next is anyone’s guess: maybe there will be some tour dates or bookings; perhaps an E.P. or follow-up album? Being a lo-fi, low key band, we will find out in time; for now, just enjoy their latest offering: an album that is rife with standout moments and stunning songs. In a music industry that is not overflowing with tremendous acts (and albums), the likes of Victory Kicks..
DESERVE a huge amount of support.
Follow Victory Kicks: