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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Pedro the Lion

eclectic reviews and opinions

Pedro the Lion

Winners Never Quit

(Jade Tree, 2000)

Here's a genuinely unsettling, emotionally intense little record, a loosely knit story of one man's downfall, with an unreliable, amoral narrator in the tradition of noir novelists like Jim Thompson.

The creepy opening, "slow and steady wins the race," expounds on the disc's manifesto, "a good person is someone who hasn't been caught," sung with chilling lack of affect over a single acoustic guitar. I'm taking the unusual step of quoting the entire lyric, because it illustrates the care with which the songs are crafted, even though in many ways it's not typical of the album:

All the way to grandma's house/I stayed on the narrow path/but my brother wandered off/deep into the wood
bitten twice by rattle snakes/tangled in the poison oak/he fell down and broke his legs/into a great ravine
when I arrived at grandma's house/she had made us tea and cake/she asked me where my brother was/I said I don't know and I ate
When I get to heaven/I'll be greeted warmly/surrounded by the angels as jesus takes my hand
I'll receive a mansion/on the river Jordan/and a crown made of diamonds/for a race well run
I won't ever lock my doors/I will trust my neighbors/confident that they deserve/to be there in heaven, too

Pedro the Lion turns out to basically the vision of one guy, David Bazan, but just as it doesn't have the forced, heavy-handed quality that typifies "concept" albums, it also doesn't have the claustrophobic, stifled feel (or the stiff drums) that frequently plauge one-man projects.

"to protect the family name"'s deliverate pace is propelled by restrained cymbal crashes and reverb-laden guitar, like Radiohead without the bombast. "a mind of her own" cranks up the volume, riding in on an angry hornet of a guitar riff, and Bazan's snarl of "oh look who it is/it's my supportive wife/and she thinks she's going to squeal" is almost frightening. The individual songs are memorable, played with conviction, and strong enough to stand on their own outside the context of the narrative. You could easily find yourself singing along with the bouyant "ba-ba-da-ba-ba"s of "never leave a job half done" until you realize that it's a song about concealing his wife's corpse. Winners Never Quit is a compelling, disturbing listen, and likely to be on the short list for year's best.

This review originally appeared in Snap Pop.

(Also see Low 5 Feb 2005)

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