By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
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By Loren Green
Victoria is giving you a wake-up call. The band's music eases in like a sympathetic snooze button--just a few plucked guitar notes and a shimmery little sample, nudging you awake. A series of snare taps enter softly, and once you've acclimated to them, they build as slowly as a good back rub, dropping in through a choral blanket and some pleasantly fuzzy distortion. In about ten minutes, the world seems far less horrible than it did when you spun into bed hours ago.
Of course, all this relaxing music is probably the product of more work than anyone has devoted to a three-song EP in local music history. Victoria's self-titled debut, which is filled with enigmatic, cinematic, long-form instrumentals, took nearly eight months to record and master--and that's not including the time it took to make the collage-style video of nighttime shots and idyllic Minneapolis sky views that's available on the enhanced CD. Remarkably, the album sprang from nothing more than a stretched-to-its-limit eight-track recording, a fledgling indie label (Spitting Kisses), and three local musicians who are just a few years removed from their days playing in high school hardcore bands.
The ambitious result seems even more unlikely, considering the band members themselves. Guitarists Greg Pritchard and Scott Ecklein and drummer Ray Benjamin are improbably young, shy, and soft-spoken: In conversation, Ecklein's voice is occasionally drowned out by passing traffic, while drummer Ray Benjamin can be found lounging in a corner, smoking contemplatively. And all three band members share a wry sense of humor about their music: They refer to their early efforts as "shit-fi," and wonder aloud about the cosmic joke that finds their quiet, downtown St. Paul practice space located directly above the Lab's metal blast.
But if they have greater aims than moving away from the devil-sign rawk that floods their space, or beyond the St. Paul music scene in general, they don't let on. "We're realistic about what we can do and what we want to do," Pritchard says. "We have goals beyond, you know, being produced by the guy who produced the first Cars record."
Apparently, they also have goals beyond being a classifiable band: Victoria's music resides in an odd middle ground between melodic pop, experimental noise, and classical--like a pot-fueled meeting of the minds between Thom Yorke and Stravinsky. The record is built upon a distinctive formula of simple guitar melodies ("What We Are Now You Will Be" is the product of about four notes), sci-fi-tinged samples, and the kind of expressive highs and lows on drums that no one has done really well since, dare we say it, the glory days of prog rock. The music occasionally sounds a bit anonymous, but some terrific moments define the band's personality: If the moment that "What We Are..." careens from Britpop expansiveness to almost nothing at all doesn't get you, you're not paying attention.
While instrumental pop seems to be the fairly exclusive province of the dance floor lately, Victoria's decision to let its multilayered guitars, synths, and drums speak for themselves challenges listeners to find meaning beyond the usual clubber hedonism. Exactly what that meaning is, they're not saying. And while such opaqueness is de rigueur for experimental indie acts of the post-Tortoise post-rock school, it's a bolder move for a band whose sense of melody and lack of pretension give them a potentially mainstream appeal.
"I don't like singers, as a rule," Pritchard says. "I think the three of us have a shared approach in that we're not trying to show off--which is not necessarily inherent in a singer--and we're all interested in music just for the sake of music. Now, we've had to find a way that we can communicate that's different [without] having lyrics," Pritchard says.
They also seem to be looking for alternate ways to communicate with their audience: The band members rarely play live, mostly because they insist that they haven't found many environments suitable to smart, experimental music with offbeat pop appeal. "People come out to see rock, and we're definitely not rock," Ecklein says, explaining some of the resistance the band faces from Saturday-night bar crowds who are usually searching for familiar background noise. "A lot of the comments we hear are like, Who the fuck are these dudes bringing their studio gear up here?"
Amid Victoria's increasing reclusion, their album serves as a welcome reminder that the band is still around. "I figured by the time that the CD was actually out, everyone would just assume that we've broken up," Pritchard laughs. "[The album is] definitely a motivating factor to get out and spread the word. We can't give in to the urge to just sit in our bedrooms and play with the sampler."
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