All my favorite singers couldn't sing, Silver Jews ringleader David Berman once sang. No crooner himself, Berman was referring to such greats as Lou Reed and Johnny Cash, artists whose presence and verbal skills trumped their vocal acumen. Berman and college buddy Stephen Malkmus of Pavement were among the most revered talk-singers of the 1990s, wobbling on that tightrope between saying nothing (always with artful disinterest) and dispensing oblique wisdom. Chad Bryan must fancy himself part of this continuum; his band, the Ants, rides on these coattails. But at times, the emulation on Victory Side is nothing short of charming. Bryan invests his near zingers with a studied, discombobulated alt-country swagger. Yet much of the wordplay feels insufficiently thought-out or, in the case of "Acres of Hobo," stolen part and parcel from the plot of Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Worse, Bryan lacks both the poetic gravitas of Berman and Malkmus and their sharp eye for detail. When the arrangements are limited to strummed acoustic guitar or a carnival organ, the songs disappoint. But when Bryan remembers that he has six people around to help him out -- as on "Holiday Hex" or "The River" -- Side picks up considerably. For Bryan to earn a place near his heroes, though, the Ants must build on their strengths (long, droning smears, duets between Bryan and Sue Phillips), add instrumental coloring and spend more time with the notepad.