If David Bazan’s 2009 solo debut Curse Your Branches is his “Dear John” letter to God, his 2000 album as Pedro the Lion, Winners Never Quit, is the prelude. I guess you could call it the “Are we okay?” text message, or the “We need to talk” phone call.
Winners is one of those albums that causes the memories of a particular era to come rushing back in an unstoppable flood, washing over to the point of stopping me in my tracks. It is decidedly early-2000s indie rock, a time of explosive growth for the genre, and aided in the shaping and molding of my taste in independent music during my formative teens.
As Bazan himself has said on multiple occasions, playing mid-tempo rock since the 90s has been his life. And at just tracks and and under 40 minutes long, Winners is a succinct and concentrated look into his mindset and failing relationship with a higher power. In this way, it is powerful, and at times, depressing.
Part concept album in its story (the good brother versus his counterpart; I wouldn’t call it evil, so much as apathetic or indifferent), the album draws heavily on Bazan’s own diminishing faith in God. This is evidenced by moments of scrutiny like on opening track “Slow and Steady Wins the Race,” which is centered around a fictionalized version of everyday Christians, ignorant in their selfishness. In the song, the allusion is made to Christians not helping out others because of their own selfish desires.
Obviously, not every Christian is like this, but the fact that this type of jaded, almost aggressively passive jabs were merely the hors d’oeuvres to Curse Your Branches’ 10-course, guest chef supper. I could continue with this metaphor, but I’ll spare you because it would have included a jaunt with a Nutella-based desert. Don’t worry about it.
Winners has a couple of cornerstone Pedro songs. Chief among them: “A Mind of Her Own.” Ironically, it’s the song where he sounds least like himself. Because it was recorded at the end of the Winners sessions and, according to Bazan, he had no voice left at all, it’s a moment of raw emotion, which is not unbecoming of the singer. Whereas normally he is a man in cool, calm and collected control of his emotions and tone, “Mind” is rare thanks to its unbridled nature. Which is not to say that he holds back on his other works – it’s just cool to see a dude who tours so he can pay for his kids’ health insurance get a little punk rock.
Elsewhere within the album’s 8 songs is the title track, “Winners Never Quit.” The climax of Winners’ story is ironic considering Bazan’s intent. While it serves as the end of the two brothers’ divergent paths, it also sees the singer beginning to take a firmer stance in revoking his beliefs. While the annulment wouldn’t be “official” (on paper, that is) until Curse Your Branches 9 years later, Bazan’s decision was already made.
Winners Never Quit is a classic in the Pedro the Lion catalogue.
From that album, this is “Never Leave a Job Half Done” –
Standout tracks: “Simple Economics” and “A Mind of Her Own”
Weakest track: “To Protect the Family Name” or “Eye on the Finish Line”
RIYL: David Bazan’s solo work. Singer-songwriters who record in a single tempo they’ve managed to master.