A glistening synth pop delight with a rock-solid core, “Tired of Winning” is one of those effortless-seeming songs that is not nearly as easy to put together as it looks, or sounds. It is also one of those songs that illustrates how central a singer’s voice is to the success or failure of the end result, a fact that is strangely overlooked at the indie rock level. By which I mean: there are way too many bands out there whose music I just can’t take seriously (sorry!) because the singer has a voice that I will simply call “unpleasant,” to cover an array of sins. And I don’t mean that a voice has to be as pretty as James Benjamin’s voice is here, with Sea Span, but I do mean that if you are singing in pursuit of some kind of public following your voice has to have some significant singerly qualities to it. Tom Waits is a great singer so, you know, I cast the net wide in terms of aural characteristics. Singers I can’t warm to are those without presence and/or without character and/or without a palpable sense of sonic purpose in their tone. More bands than you may realize disqualify themselves right there.
In the meantime, however, yes, Benjamin has a lovely voice used to lovely effect here, so much so that I can not only overlook the vocal manipulation I believe I’m hearing, I can (gasp) applaud its tasteful usage. And maybe that’s all I’ve been waiting for when it comes to auto-tune and related processing effects: for singers to learn to use them as honest sonic enhancements versus either cynical corrections or pandering nonsense. Here amid the summery groove and simple melodicism of “Tired of Winning,” whatever Benjamin is running his voice through adds to the ethereal momentum of the composition, furthering the song’s cause versus distracting from it. At least, to my ears.
“Tired of Winning” is the fifth of six singles that the Philadelphia-based Benjamin has released in 2016 under the name Sea Span. It came out in May. The first five singles are all available to listen to and purchase via Bandcamp; additionally, four of them, including the latest, “Refugees,” can be listened to and downloaded, for free, via SoundCloud. Thanks to the artist for the MP3. And note that the fact that I have previously been watching CSPAN all week and live here in Philadelphia has no bearing on my selection of this song at this exact time; and that rather than being tired of winning I am terrified of losing. But that’s probably another song.