Victory Garden are a refreshingly colourful and somewhat dramatic acoustic/alternative band from Crownpoint, Illinois, who may just be appearing at the right time given 2012’s tendency to favour the more artistic side of the musical coin. Taking their influence from renowned cult acts like Modest Mouse and Local H as well as the iconic 90’s alternative heroes Smashing Pumpkins, they manage to achieve what they set out to do by paying tribute, and yet adding brand new textures and inspiration. The Smashing Pumpkins influence is the most obvious, but this is a positive, as I haven’t heard ANY band really bring a strong Pumpkins influence to the table…ever, unless it’s subtly on the guitars. Victory Garden write dark and sweet alternative ballads with a touch of moodiness and a strong sense of how to structure a song.
The band’s EP “What’s Left Behind” opens up with “Bars & Tone”, an instrumental that layers pop/rock guitar hooks and basslines, establishing a prog rock groove not unsimilar to Porcupine Tree. “Snake Charmer” sets the pace with a more familiar alternative rock piece at the outset. Victory Garden seem to have a sense of adding intrigue and unforeseen ear candy to the mix, making this a surprisingly well-textured, dynamic track. Not every band can entice you to bob your head to the lines “You’re a liar and a cheat.”, but they do so with ease here.
“As a Ghost”, which is definitely one of the darkest and most catchy tracks on the release, comes next. Michael Finney’s vocals snarl away in a Corgan-esque fashion through some brilliant lyrics and melodies, at times smooth and at times raspy. He does well with both baritone and falsetto, and the chorus is memorable partly because of his work, and partyly because of the excellent rhythms and textures by Luke Kahren, who handles the drums, percussion and keys (Michael handles the guitars as well as vocals). Down but comforting is the mood here…confused but a step closer to freedom…the same feel you get from a great MTV unplugged set. Beautiful track.
“What’s Left Behind” is next, and the bright guitars and solid tom work continue. This becomes one of the more epic pieces, reminding me at points of Puscifer’s Maynard James Keenan both vocally and musically/energetically. “Say So Long” opens with a sullen guitar piece and a creepy “Blue Jay Way” keyboard piece. Appropriately, the band break into an impressive rock/progressive groove with the lyrics “I want to leave this town tonight. Start the car, drive on out of sight.” It’s the chorus where things get really interesting; the feel is determined and unrelenting. Vocal lines and chord choices are on the stranger side just as with the verse, and overall this makes for a stand out piece. Full on prog rock but very accessible. “Tides” is softer and plays like a traditional love song. Victory Garden do a wonderful job with the atmospheres on keys and guitars, creating a Pink Floyd type mood, and where the groove slips, the earnest intent pulls it through.
Victory Garden are an exciting new band for a few reasons. They’re an accessible mix of acoustic, alternative and progressive rock. They have an unusual sense of dynamics normally not seen in indie bands. They also combine authenticity and good lyrics with strong pop songwriting structures. Michael Finney’s personality oozes out of him while singing, and Luke Kahren shows serious intuition on keys and percussion. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in what they’re creating, and I look forward to hearing more from these two.
Buy “What’s Left Behind” at iTunes.