The Strugglers

You Win

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You Win recalls the down-tempo confessionals of (Smog) or Red House Painters -- folk-based rock with gently swelling crescendos that raise the songs just enough above room temperature to be memorable. Singer/songwriter Brice Randall Bickford II's timeworn warble is a natural fit for the lyrical themes of resignation and acceptance, but it's the contrast with the arrangements -- highlighted by Chris Eubank's cello and Megan Hughes' violin -- that makes the best songs stand out. Bickford conjures lonely road blues on "The Cascade Range" while Bickford's and Neil Allen's guitars trade lines with cello and violin over a driving beat; "I Tried to Repair" balances elegiac piano runs with the plaintive harmonies of Bickford and Heather McEntire; the languorous, Hammond-driven tempo of "Being Shown Blues" culminates in a gorgeous banjo-and-strings outro. Three of the nine songs clock in over six minutes, while three more near that mark, suggesting that an edit or two probably wouldn't have diminished the final product. But with its melancholic sound and themes, the Strugglers' third record works well as a companion piece of the Painters' Old Ramon or D. Braxton Harris' forgotten gem Deep Dark Black. Like the dusky painting that adorns its cover, You Win's music evokes the solemn shades of something that's run its course, leaving in its stead bittersweet remembrances and the hope of a new day's redemption.

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