The members of Hamilton five-piece Bitter Defeat have day jobs that in many ways are more prestigious than the music on this entertaining EP, cleverly called ‘Minor Victory’. That is to say, when you have a surgeon playing bass and a university professor playing Casiotone, lumbering fuzz-pop isn’t necessarily expected. But to see Bitter Defeat live, or in their music video produced by another Hamilton creative stalwart Kat Waswo, is to see their true selves – happy go-lucky friends making music they love.
The ’90s were clearly very kind to band founder, Rob Shirlow. His songwriting and the band’s overall tone echoes the sound of slacker-rock from that era, the likes of Pavement or The Breeders, though the guitars are grubbier and the rhythm section a little more sedate. Opening track Light That Shines, rattles into life, accelerating further in its brilliant choruses, but two minutes later winds down again. The whole ethos of this band seems to be about having a good time, so if after two minutes of a relatively cracking pace it’s time to move on to the next lark, well, it’s time to move on.
The next lark happens to be the single and standout song from this 5-track EP, Long Lash. A song dedicated to an annoying eyelash is surely an anthem to the “middle-age malaise” Shirlow reflects on. Rather than seem corny, Long Lash showcases the knack of Shirlow and Ben Manning as guitarists. Neither are trying to be virtuosos, in fact it feels like to do so might lead to an invitation not to come to the next band practice. They combine simply and methodically to lead the band through the haze, one grinding out rhythm and the other bending notes over the top, creating pop-friendly layering.
An ex-pat Welshman, Shirlow was bassist for Hamilton’s indie darlings Ancient Tapes before they split in 2018, but perhaps that band didn’t cash in on his heritage as well as they could have. Bitter Defeat have already achieved radio play on BBC Radio Wales, as well as favour in the city of the future, opening for NZ acts like The Bats and Hamish Kilgour at Hamilton’s Nirvana Lounge.
It’s easy to see why, with Kathryn Thompson’s drumming driving the band forward, buzzy guitar licks, and an attitude of hometown DIY. While the EP has a certain polish, Julian White’s bass and Ian Duggan’s keys sound sharp, aesthetically, this is indie music. The bouncy closer, Streetlight, finishes with someone happily yelling, “I didn’t cock up!” and that sums up this ‘Minor Victory’. Fun music played by friends who are trying to seem vaguely professional at night, having worked hard as professionals all day.