By Bradley Barnes
Everyone has that one band or musician that never fails to strike the right chords (pun partially intended).
Whether it’s the sound, lyrics or mood they create, this artist is seemingly incapable of writing a song that you don’t absolutely adore, and you always wind up grinning ear-to-ear while singing along. For me, that artist is Pedro The Lion, and I’ve been a fan since around 1997, when Whole EP came out on Tooth & Nail Records.
Winners Never Quit, the second full-length offering from Pedro The Lion, has now officially reached the 20 year mark. It’s somewhat of an oddity in the band’s discography, in that frontman and primary songwriter David Bazan wrote it as a concept album about two brothers: one a corrupt politician, and the other a drunken ne’er do-well.
It’s a dark morality tale taking place mainly from the perspective of the politician, who is definitely not a good person, which is made pretty apparent from the opening track “Slow And Steady Wins The Race.”
In that song, the two brothers make a trip to their grandmother’s house, when the “good son” (the politician) lets his brother get lost in the woods, and suffers a number of injuries. Meanwhile, the good son goes straight to the house, and when his grandmother asks him where his brother is, he says “I don’t know.”
He grows up to be a politician, gaining his office by cheating in the election, then murders his wife when she threatens to tell the authorities. He’s then caught, convicted for the murder and the election fraud, and sentenced to prison.
The other brother grows up an alcoholic, and is considered an embarrassment to his brother and family, but is otherwise pretty harmless. Guess which one the family considered the moral and successful, though?
Pretty dark, heavy stuff, especially coming from David Bazan, who considered himself an Evangelical Christian at the time. The lyrics are given even more impact by the sparse musical arrangements, which were almost entirely recorded by Bazan by himself.
The music can best be described as Midwest-influenced emo (think Mineral, American Football, and Sunny Day Real Estate), though some also consider Pedro The Lion to be a member of the slowcore scene, alongside bands like Bedhead, Low, and Red House Painters.
Several of the songs are slow, melancholy dirges, such as title track “Winners Never Quit,” as well as “Eye On The Finish Line” and “To Protect The Family Name.” There are some livelier numbers, with “A Mind Of Her Own” being the noisiest tune of the bunch, where Bazan’s vocals almost becoming a wail as the music careens into an emotionally riveting climax.
Despite the dark lyrics, and often morose tone of this record, Winners Never Quit has been a vital part of my music collection for 20 years now.
Opening track, “Slow And Steady Wins The Race,” will absolutely get stuck in your head, and after a couple of listens, I would be surprised if you don’t find yourself singing along.
Even “Eye On The Finish Line” has a fragile beauty to it’s chord progression, and has a calming effect. Bazan’s lethargic (but tuneful) vocal delivery has always been a hallmark of Pedro The Lion’s sound, and it’s in full effect here.
Though Winners Never Quit might not hit such great heights as the band’s next release, Control (by far the band’s best record in my opinion), it is an important part of the Pedro The Lion catalog, and should be in any Midwest emo/slowcore fan’s collection.
Featured image retrieved from Pedro The Lion Bandcamp.