Salty dogs

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  January 3, 2008

The old adage about bands breaking up being like a relationship ending was literally true for Lederman and founding Victory at Sea mate Mona Elliott, since their separation coincided with the band’s. In the songs that Lederman pulled from the wreckage, he hits his low piano notes hard, Joe Wyatt makes his violin strings moan (or mourn), and Dave Norton keeps a hard, slow, “can’t go on, must go on” beat that’s as expressive as it is tight. Within this thick, sure swirl, Lederman’s quivering baritone plunges into growls, a voice gaining and losing charge of itself. “My songs are all reactions to things that are happening to me. And honestly, a lot of these sketches came from when I was freaking the fuck out.”

Although born of pain, the songs demonstrate refinement, opening up into beer-hoistingly bold arrangements thanks to contributions from Sam Potrykus (of Christians and Lions) jumping aboard on upright bass, Eric Provonsil (of Broken River Prophet) on lap steel, and Kristina Johnson (of Ho-Ag and Roh Delikat) providing vocals that land like the only light in a dark bar. Lederman writes smart break-up lyrics. They swerve between discomforting transparency and dark, complex humor — the kind where a laugh is a last resort.

“You can’t have a song called ‘Worst Birthday Ever’ and not have there be something kind of funny underneath,” he says. “I’ve always appreciated dark music because of how redeeming it can be.”

And Mona Elliott? She was the band’s most recognizable member, her crisp, chilly guitar lines providing structure for her mighty voice to tear through. As the textures of V@S grew ever more complex, her voice served as the constant — sometimes soaring like a lighthouse beam, other times sinking like an anchor.

Elliott’s new project, Travels, is a departure. For one thing, her voice is often braided with bandmate/beau Anar Badalov’s silkily plainspoken delivery. Badalov, formerly of Baltimore’s Metal Hearts, relocated to Boston shortly after he and Elliott fell for each other on tour, and shortly before Elliott was diagnosed with breast cancer — from which she’s made a full recovery. The home recordings that grew from this trying period glow with a radiant simplicity, minimally realized with just guitars, drum machines, and two voices. Elliott’s slightly lightened delivery and Badalov’s lilting indoor voice give the songs a domestic coziness.

Elliott declined to be interviewed, but she did send along a handmade edition of Travels, which is available at the band’s MySpace page. Each of the 10 tracks has a familiar spaciousness; what’s new is the delicate tension that tugs the songs along. The pair will trek to Europe in March for their very first show, part of a 26-day trip that starts in Amsterdam.

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