Nearly four years after the relentlessly grim The West Is the Future, Darren Jackson returns to his solo identity as Kid Dakota, having spent the intervening years as both a producer/engineer with his own studio, and as co-frontman of the considerably poppier Minneapolis indie act the Olympic Hopefuls alongside Erik Appelwick of Tapes 'n Tapes and Vicious Vicious. (Following Appelwick's recent departure, the band has since shortened its name to the Hopefuls.) No one could possibly mistake A Winners Shadow for an ABBA record -- "Transfusion," a catchy song about heroin addiction and psychic oblivion in Mexico, and the dealer-and-addict saga "Puffy Jackets" are two of the sunnier tunes to be found here -- but it at least acknowledges the possibility of happiness in songs like the nearly hopeful, energetic "Chutes and Ladders." And at least "Long Odds" is about a wild-eyed gambling addict instead of a drug addict, so that's mildly less depressing and squalid. The new, stripped-down lineup of drummer Ian Prince, with Jackson handling everything else, gives the album a stark, bare-bones intimacy that's heightened by Jackson's clean, sparse production. That makes a refreshing change from the hazy slowcore vibe of Kid Dakota's first two albums released on Low's Chairkickers Union label. Along with the incrementally sunnier lyrical outlook, the crystalline, nearly live sound of tracks as varied as the aggressive, surging opener "New York System" and the close-miked, stripped-down intimacy of the slow-building "Downhill" marks a new and welcome progression in Kid Dakota's career.
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason