February 03, 2006

The Strugglers "You Win"

Okay, so, like, on a cynical level, I could say that The Strugglers sounds like Songs:Ohia, which is a roundabout way of saying that The Strugglers sounds like Will Oldham. You know the drill: it’s a guy with a guitar, a bit of a country twang to his singing voice, and dark, dusty melodies that sound like something from the closing credits of a 1970s Western. Sometimes these artists are convincing, and sometimes…well, let’s just say that those artists will give you no reason to allow your copy of Lost Blues to gather dust. While that may seem a bit unfair, then you haven’t been subjected to an onslaught of Bonnie Prince Wannabes.

Brice Randal Bickford II is the man behind the name, and his seems to be a lonely trail. Though it might be unfair to lump him and his music into the categories mentioned above, after listening to his third album, You Win, it’s rather hard not to think about his place among the legions of those following in Oldham’s footsteps. That’s not to take away from Bickford’s talent; it’s simply placing him in context of the genre—a context that’s impossible to ignore, as it’s blatantly obvious where he finds his influences. But being influenced by a particular artist or a genre is not necessarily a damnable offense, and You Win doesn’t necessarily suffer from such comparisons.

Despite the fact that the record might sound quite familiar, it doesn’t really distract from the beauty of his songs. His voice is gravelly, but it’s not haggard; it’s rough, yet it’s still somewhat pretty, and though it’s occasionally wobbly, it’s not off-putting. He’s joined by a tasteful string section, and his songs are accentuated by some gorgeous piano playing, too--a rarity among many musicians of this particular persuasion. The gorgeousness of the depressing “A Rejection Letter” sets the tone for You Win, but the delicate arrangements of songs like “Distant Demands,” “Being Shown Blues,” and “The Disappeared” instantly creates a touching, funereal mood. At times, such as on “I Tried to Repair,” he’s joined by Heather McIntire, and their vocal interplay gives his sad songs a new dimension. If there’s one complaint to make, it’s that the songs occasionally drag; taking off a few seconds here and there wouldn’t hurt, especially in the longer, extended instrumental sections.

It’s hard not to feel a little bit miserable after listening to You Win, and it’s certainly not a shiny, happy people record. But for those who enjoy darker music, or simply like their music a little sad, then this record’s worth seeking out.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.thestrugglers.org
Label Website: http://www.acuareladiscos.com

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