Photo by Erin McCandless
If you’ve ever been to the Girlie Show at Hambone’s, the Pittsburgh Art House in Highland Park, or one of many local open mic nights, the name Liss Victory probably rings a bell. Between her solo work and her collaboration with drummer Travis Warren (under the moniker Victory at the Crossroads), she’s been active in the Pittsburgh scene for years. From festivals like Deutschtown and RANT to regional, multistate tours, she’s had plenty of experience delivering socially-conscious Rust Belt rock. And on Friday, April 6th, her long-awaited second solo album, Quelque Chose, will finally arrive. A release show with several special guests, including Dori Cameron and Chet Vincent, is happening the same night, at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls.
Its unconventional title (which is French for “something”) is appropriate. Quelque Chose isn’t your typical singer-songwriter fare. Victory has made smart use of effects, overdubs, and vocal/guitar layering, for songs that are multidimensional and interesting, even without such rock staples as bass and drums. I’ve seen her perform live a few times, and her guitar and vocal chops certainly hold their own on their own. But she successfully explores, expands upon, and experiments with them here. “I heard a message I needed to communicate,” she says. “And to properly share that sound, I felt like I needed to get my hands on those knobs.”
From immersive, traveling tracks like “Daydream Drive;” to the faster, tongue-in-cheek fun of “Roadside Resistance;” to the perfectly melancholy “horrorshow” and “The Prayer Bit,” Victory displays her sharp songwriting instincts. She knows when to pull back (with sparse, technically impressive fingerpicking) and when to unleash lush vocal layers or frenzied strumming. Atmosphere and ambience can be tricky for one person to create alone, but she manages it just fine.
Unusual elements, like the use of four different languages in the first full track, “We the Heathens,” and the extended voice clip in the fittingly spacey “Cosmic Immigrants,” catch you by surprise at first. But the more you listen, the more these choices grow on you, and the more you appreciate the risks she took by including them. (The languages are English, French, Russian, and Tamil, respectively, in case you were curious.)
Victory wrote and recorded the album herself at the Garfield Art House, with help from Don Strange on mixing and mastering. This do-it-yourself spirit and unapologetic individuality has long characterized her approach. One thing she makes perfectly clear, both in her own descriptions of her work and in the work itself, is her use of music as a “force for struggle.” So if you prefer your “fight the power” sentiments a little more subtle, the fiery voice clips woven throughout the last track “Fiscal Cliff,” might not be for you.
But despite this driving force, Quelque Chose provides more. The broad-reaching calls for revolution, and unity within that revolution, are certainly present—encapsulated in the closing lines of “The Prayer Bit” (“We are one”) and “Fiscal Cliff” (“I will fight beside you.”) But the songs also explore heartache and inadequacy and lost relationships alongside sociopolitical topics. That personal touch is crucial. It reminds you of who this “struggle” is supposed to be for: imperfect, passionate, emotional human beings, looking for connections in the midst of all our differences.
In “horrorshow,” Victory sings, “You say I don’t listen/Well I say you can’t see/when I tear myself open/and it all pours out of me.” Listening to this album, you can’t help but see. And that’s a powerful thing.
“I’m still exploring,” she concludes. “This is just the beginning.”
You can purchase/listen to “We the Heathens” from Quelque Chose on Bandcamp now, with the whole album dropping very soon. The release show is happening on Friday, April 6th at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls. Chet Vincent will be opening with a solo set, followed by Dori Cameron, and Victory at the Crossroads, just might make an appearance. Tickets are $10 online (here) or at the door. Doors open at 7 PM and the music gets underway at 8. Find out more at the Facebook event page. And keep up with Liss directly here.