It’s unusual that David Bazan of Pedro the Lion reminds me so much of a couple of Toronto-area songwriters, Hayden and Ron Sexsmith. Languid tunes for dreary times, unusual religious sword-swinging, dark rural family tales — it’s a recipe for a strangely exhilirating distress. I’m supposing the tales of disaster (like "Transcontinental" that starts with "engine severs lower legs") give the listener a feel-good perspective on their own life. Cautionary tales. Even the benign-sounding "Bands With Managers" ends with "vans with fifteen passengers are rolling over". Bazan’s 2002-release "Control" seemed too electrified to beg comparisons to singer-songwriters. By this, his fourth release, there aren’t any surprises, just the expected twists in the narrative. You don’t know what twists will be, but you’re prepared for them. All your senses are heightened. It’s like that They Might Be Giants song "John Lee Supertaster", everything on this CD is more delectable. It’s not punk rock, nor emo, it’s acoustic indie rock. It’s wordy song-poetry. It’s intimate and intelligent. Music for active listening.
With a fifth album, indie-rock band Pedro the Lion returns with more wind in its sails than ever before. Less hushed than previous work, these songs comprise the most robust collection PTL has created to date.
Musically, Achilles Heel finds PTL with a more full-bodied sound and mastermind David Bazan with a more assured voice. The shimmering strum of "Forgone Conclusions" soars with an unbelievably natural melody and pace. The beautiful keyboard on the gracefully textured "The Fleecing" is a vintage and earthy take on futurism akin to Grandaddy. The gentle brisk rhythm and crystalline harmony move the lithe "Transcontinental." And the melodic "Start Without Me" contains the most expansive and open-armed chorus on the album.
The lyrical content, however, is where PTL has always been the most arresting. On the one hand, Bazan has a stirringly literate writing style that is versatile in subject and technique. Though rather adult in theme, the children’s writer in him shows through in the whimsical "Arizona" (the moniker Pedro the Lion was taken from a character Bazan created for a possible children’s book). However, the vast plurality of this album finds him in dark lyrical waters. The southern gothic tale of "Discretion" and the backside philosophical take on communism of "A Simple Plan" have wickedly hooked endings that channel the spirit of HH Munro.
On the other hand, Bazan is an observing Christian. From this perspective, he explores his relationships with others and God. But this ain’t your glazy-eyed sister’s alternative contemporary christian music . Bazan’s accounts of his experiences as a religious person are rife with doubt ("The Fleecing"), darkness and frustration. It’s a living, breathing thing that rightfully challenges a thinking person. Ultimately, his take on the experience of faith is a singularly humanistic one. Seriously, how many decidedly Christian artists would write the lyric "you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the Spirit saying shut the fuck up?"
Regardless of subject matter, Bazan’s writing is in sterling form on Achilles Heel. Quite truthfully, it’s literature put to music. And with the music being so much more elegant and expansive this time around, it all culminates in Pedro the Lion’s finest album thus far. And the diversity in mood, sound and theme makes the record friendly to repeated listening.
Pedro the Lion has a way of turning lemonade back into lemons. The Seattle-based indie rock outfit – which essentially boils down to one man, David Bazan – sets plaintive anecdotes about the human condition against sweet, childlike melodies and luscious chord patterns that move at a snail’s pace. It’s like reading a Russian novel with a music box twinkling away in the background.
That’s not to say that Pedro the Lion’s music is without hope. As the band’s picture-perfect new album, Achilles Heel, illustrates, you just have to do a little leg-work to find the solution to Bazan’s sobering questions.
Achilles Heel breaks Bazan’s recent pattern of concept albums just in time. Rather than having to stay faithful to a linear storyline, he was free for the first time in years to deal lyrically with whatever issues presented themselves.
"Whereas before I might have decided, ‘I’m going to write a song about potato wedges,’ and then I would write a song about potato wedges -now, with Achilles Heel, I really tried to leave it open the entire time," Bazan explains to the Fly. "I would just write what came out. So, approaching the creative process that way was a lot more fun and yielded results that I liked better, and that made it pretty much impossible to do any sort of concept record."
After trying his hand at guitar rock on 2002′s Control (Jade Tree), Bazan is retreating to the melodic jangle of his earlier albums. At its rockingest, Achilles Heel sounds like Coldplay, to use a pop reference, in one of their more raucous moments. "On the first Control tour, I think I decided that the whole direction of the record and the way that we were representing it live was a little bit obnoxious, I suppose," Bazan admits. "And so, ever since then I’ve been slowly scaling things back as far as the rock is concerned, realizing that it’s just not my forte."
Pedro the Lion is one of the bright spots in music today, inventive without being pretentious, emotional without being emo, melodic without being Five For Fighting.
Here’s where I lose you: They’re also a Christian band. Well, not a Christian band, but a band of people who just happen to be Christians. As you’re probably experiencing right now, stumbling across the "C" word in a music review is often like finding a big, fat spider in your bed.
An argument can be made that you shouldn’t dismiss Pedro the Lion for being Christians any more than you’d dismiss the Beastie Boys because Ad-Rock is a Buddhist. And in fact, Bazan has about as much of a religious agenda as the Beastie Boys. They definitely don’t sound like Christian music. But still, people just love to point an accusing finger at Bazan. Sometimes he points his middle one back at them.
"I would prefer that people were able to interact with the songs without bringing so much to it, assumptions about my character, about my belief system or anything like that. That would be ideal," Bazan explains.
"But at the same time, without that little story of, ‘Weird, this guy is somewhat religious,’ we wouldn’t get nearly as much press as we do," he says with his usual candor. "I don’t prefer that that’s our story, but I guess it is."
Fortunately, the artistry in Pedro the Lion’s music outshines any of the religion phobia that normally has hipster indie kids crying into their iPods. In fact, the band’s becoming a regular underground sensation, to the point that Bazan really has to look the mainstream world in the eyes and decide if he wants to join its ugly ranks. "I guess I’m a bit torn about some of that. I think that if I could make a living in indie rock, I would prefer to remain damned to it," he says hesitantly. "Because I think that the mainstream world is pretty fickle, not to mention almost completely soulless. It’s not run by a bunch of music lovers who are following their heart." For the first time in the band’s seven-album career, Bazan has recruited what appears to be a permanent rhythm section – and just in time. "I was just really getting bored or irritated or something, I don’t know, with the way that the band went. And then with this album and then sort of getting these other two guys to play with me, I just have really gotten a new lease on my life in the band. I feel really great about that," he gushes. "It would be nice for the album to sell well and for the tours to go well, because that would really help the three of us that are playing in the band support our families and be able to keep on doing this."
Having just re-signed with so-cool-it-hurts indie label Jade Tree, Pedro the Lion will be around for at least two more albums of cerebral, melodic indie-rock goodness.
It’s already difficult for a band to deliver a solid record amongst the hordes of indie media hype, but it’s even tougher when a band gets lumped into that musically awful genre so casually referred to as Christian rock. Luckily, for both himself and his listeners, Pedro the Lion mastermind David Bazan manages to transcend both barriers and put together a pretty masterful album. What Achilles Heel doesn’t evade is the routine and repetition that often plagues musicians who’ve already established themselves on previous records. In comparison to Pedro the Lion’s Control and the EP, The Only Reason I Feel Secure, Achilles Heel seems to lack the lyrical innovation which typified Bazan’s music. It’s a concerted effort, and Bazan almost succeeds, but falters shortly before I can validate Achilles Heel as a real keeper.
The beginning of the album is its strongest point. “Bands With Managers” and “Foregone Conclusions” are both reflections of Bazan’s earlier writing style. The slow drawl and stripped down instrumentation on the first track are reminiscent of The Only Reason I Feel Secure, while the latter is arguably the best song on the album. Opening with, “I don’t wanna believe that all of the above is true,” Bazan repeats what he does best: simple arrangements and clever lines diced with vindictive honesty and a religious message that isn’t dripping with Jesus references. The next two tracks are also pretty solid, and easily distinguishable from each other, but starting with “Arizona,” Bazan starts to lose focus. “Keep Swinging” doesn’t even sound like Pedro the Lion, in a bad way. Bazan sings, “You got drunk more so than you’d ever been,” and risks sounding contrived and cheesy.
Achilles Heel’s saving grace (no pun intended) may be “Simple Plan.” The ninth track, out of eleven total, slowly reminds me of how Pedro the Lion won me over originally. The low key, melancholy tune coupled with Bazan’s powerful delivery make it almost worth it to get to the end of the album. But the last two songs don’t follow through and the album makes a weak ending. “Poison” is indistinguishable and untouching. Bazan’s most compelling tool is his ability to assign human emotion to everything around him, but at times, I’m just not buying it. Compared to the most of the so-called indie pop/rock being released these days, Pedro the Lion is easily ahead. But those of us who know Bazan know he can do better than this. We’ve heard it, and Achilles Heel isn’t up to par.
PEDRO THE LION’S Achilles’ Heel (JT1095) is now availableâ€¦that’s right, it’s out in stores all across the country and beyond, but if you were one of the diehard fans who were brilliant enough to pre-order the record via the Jade Tree website then you know that as an added bonus you would be entered to win a brand new, shiny iPod stuffed full of PEDRO THE LION goodies. Well, after much speculation and a bombardment of pre-orders we are pleased to announce Amanda Holtz of Cooper City, FL is our lucky winner. Elated and extremely thankful, Amanda could not have been more deserving.
Congratulations to her and thank you to everyone who took the time to enter!
Breakout success has eluded Pedro the Lion, since its original five-piece inception in 1997.
After disbanding following its first release, the band became the confessional instrument for David Bazan’s sharp assessment of life.
Following several critically acclaimed releases, Pedro the Lion carried the arduous banner as “one of the best bands you haven’t heard.”
The eluded limelight could at last shine vibrantly on Bazan following the release of Achilles Heel.
Finding his inner (Evan) Dando, Bazan has veered away from the concept narrative found in previous releases in exchange for straight-ahead melody and unsophisticated production.
“We just wrote a bunch of songs that weren’t necessarily related,” Bazan said. “I prefer this process. There are still themes on this record, but it is much more freeing to write this way. Before it was like trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle.
“This was more of a band effort compared to Control and Winner,” Bazan added. “I didn’t play everything on it. It’s just three guys playing music.”
Recorded in over a month’s time at his home studio in Washington, Bazan along with longtime collaborator TW Walsh and (Ester Drag’s) Jame McAlister completed an unpretentious assortment of pop music not heard in radio playlists since the days of the Lemonheads and Teenage Fanclub.
“All the songs came out that way (pop),” Bazan said. “I wrote most of them by myself and ran them through with the band. It’s funny. Recently we’ve been hearing the Lemonheads quite a bit, but we weren’t hearing them while recording the record.”
From the start, Pedro the Lion has been branded with the category of â€˜Christian Recording Artists’. Though Bazan is open about his theological beliefs, the intentions are never sermonized.
Instead Bazan’s narrative comes from an analyst’s perspective. An individual in search, refusing to take a direct dogmatic line.
For example, Foregone Conclusions, disguised in the sunshine of pop, stands as a comment to all those who sit a top the overbearing pedestal of a bible beater passing judgement as he exclaims, â€˜You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord/ To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the f*** up.’
“It’s (faith) a central issue in my life,” Bazan admits. “It can be a bit strained at times, but I find a lot of peace in it. It’s going to come in the writing. But it’s often more critical than preachy. There should be critique and people should take a look around at their community.”
More a band now than simply a solo-project, Pedro the Lion seems ready to takes make its rightful place upon the indie-rock elite.
“With this line up and this band we can gain some momentum that Pedro has lacked,” Bazan said. “Pedro has never had a set group of members and had it always been, it would have been a lot more fun. I think this band is finding its nucleus.
“The four-track will always have a special place in a (singer/songwriter’s) creative life. But I enjoy making albums and playing with other guys. Also afterward, you can go out and grab some beers and Mexican food.”
Simply put, Pedro The Lion have finished the album of their career. After the substantial success of Control (Jade Tree, 2002) it was just a matter of time before PTL-mastermind David Bazan would actualize his full potential. Though, Bazan, as always, is far too humble to see this particular forest for the trees; “I just wrote some songs and set out to present them in the clearest, most straightforward way possible.” Regardless of his modesty, Achilles Heel is classic, richly crafted and deceptively sweet, lyrically as sharp as ever.
While examining dirty fray of the American dream, Achilles Heel is varied affair. While the past two albums were concept-narratives, the new album is more in line with with PTL’s debut, It’s Hard to Find a Friend topical, and not hinged on telling a linear tale, though it retains traces of the personal-political. “There is a sexist subtext, comments in the songs made from that perspective. The wife in “I Do” who is reduced to a function. In “Discretion”, the wife sleeps in her husband’s bed .The male voice in most of these songs are buckling under a patriarchal pressure,” explains Bazan. Quiet, firm examinations of resignation and bravery waft from the paralyzed man on Transcontinental, to the more explicit pean in “A Simple Plan” of a father who’s breadwinner function is relieved by the dawn of communism“ It’s such a simple plan/ to take it like a man/ but I’m not sure I can/ we fought for a decade corruption and greed/ it gave me a purpose a reason to breathe.” Regarding his decision to eschew the direct dogma and musical heaviness of the last two albums, “Without pretense, I wanted to un-concept things a bit. I think I had a bit of a musical identity crisis,” Bazan laughs “So I just returned to what I knew, which meant making a record that was not so heavy-handed, and not about spending a year on it. I just wanted people to be able to hear how much fun TW (Walsh) and I had making it.”
While a return to classic simplicity, both the songwriting and production, maintain a lush depth. Recorded over a month’s time at his home studio in rural Washington State, Bazan was aided by multi-instrumentalist and longtime collaborator TW Walsh and label-mate James McAlister of Ester Drang on drums. Achilles Heel exudes a dulcet spontaneity, clearly communicating David Bazan’s vision: Unfettered by excess — Pedro the Lion flourishes.
If anyone’s begging for a separation of church and state, it’s Pedro the Lion. But not for the reasons you’d suspect.
Commandments in courthouses might be a different story, but it’s nothing short of gospel truth that faith belongs in the music of this Northwestern slowcore outfit, ostensibly the solo project of Christian indie-rocker David Bazan. It’s the “state” part of the equation that needs to be excised from Pedro’s plan of action.
On Achilles Heel, his band’s fourth full-length release, Bazan continues to delve deeper into the polarizing political invective he introduced on 2000’s Winning Isn’t Everything, later taken to its rhetorical point of no return on 2002’s monochromatic Control.
Here, Bazan tries harder to personalize the political, but too often his sociological studies reveal their subjects to be little more than props in a naturalstic allegory of toil and tragedy. Bazan’s tunnel vision is the problem here: On songs like “Discretion” and “A Simple Plan”, where stylized characters and narrative straw men undercut useful observations on the plight of the working class. In the latter, Bazan’s first-person send-up of blue-collar conditions comes off so satirically lobotomized that it seems to indict the drones rather than the slavedrivers. Clearly, it’s Bazan here who sneers “the plants and the factories / Are perfectly run / The workers and bosses are living as one / People are equal people are good / People are working as hard as they should be”. Rather than show true sympathy by exploring the nuance of even the superficially simplest lives, Bazan makes drearily deterministic morons out of his supposed objects of pathos.
If Bazan had always been such a clumsy political puppeteer, his music would certainly be much more easily dismissed. However, on his first album as Pedro the Lion, the shopworn 1998 classic It’s Hard to Find a Friend, and in sporadic glimpses since, Bazan has sincerely and affectingly explored his doubts and confirmations of Christianity, approaching his faith with a refreshing mixture of careful cynicism and childish awe.
Back then, Bazan struck a perfect balance between gentleness and reprobation because he pilloried himself more often than anyone else. The self-flagellation seemed genuine—Bazan never sold his own sacrifice and failure as Everyman mythology, but tried instead to hash out the daily trials of the duty-bound Christian. A certified idealist, sure, but Bazan’s no egoist, and he’d never posit himself as some sort of guarantor for Christian values. He never made himself represent a greater (and invariably clumsier) truth, so his parables seemed like sweetly off-the-cuff Davey and Goliath tales rather than monolithic pedantry.
Unsurprisingly, Bazan’s still better off when he works from the inside out, writing people with problems rather than the other way around. “Keep Swinging” and “The Poison” are lyrically two of the finest moments on the album, simply because Bazan starts from personal devastation and private despair, then depends on the listener to fill in the ideological blanks. Unfortunately for the former, Bazan adds shameless Crazy Horse coppage to an already-limited musical palette of endless builds and overheated bluster. Before, Bazan’s stolidly workmanlike tunes were only worth studying for how they mimicked the joyless immersion of his lyrics and voice. On “Keep Swinging”, we can’t even claim that marginal indulgence, as it’s such a close cousin to Rust-era Neil that you’d swear Bazan had stolen Ol’ Black herself.
That said, only “The Poison” points towards a new resolution, its tough-minded alt-country an avenue both for Bazan and the genre as a whole to further explore. Free from stylistic signposts or springloaded rhetoric, Bazan closes both song and album with some of his best lines to date: “My old man always swore / That hell would have no flame / Just a front row seat to watch your true love / Pack her things and drive away”.
As the album’s title unintentionally indicates, there’s a crippling weakness here. Rather than tuck it safely away behind his strengths, however, Bazan inexplicably leaves it out in the open, exposed for all to see.
There are two things which are invariably brought up when reviewing a record from Pedro the Lion. The first is the Christian beliefs of Pedro’s alter ego David Bazan, and the second is “Why is this considered punk?” The second needs little explanation; Pedro the Lion is fundamentally a solo project with minimal instrumentation and that instrumentation that does exist is typically a guitar and drums accompanied by lethargic vocals; whether it is “punk” or not seems fairly irrelevant because if you enjoy his records, as I do, you will invariably find some way to make him “punk” and if you don’t like his material you will dismiss it as not. Eye of the beholder and all that…
The other topic of discussion is Bazan’s Christianity; and while he is an open and unapologetic Christian, his beliefs figure into his songwriting in a perfectly natural way; he isn’t trying to convert anyone and he outright loathes so-called Christian rock, so it bears little importance in examining his music, or his latest record Achilles Heel.
This latest record, and his fourth (of sorts) for Jade Tree finds Pedro the Lion returning to the lyrical foundation of its first full length, It’s Hard to Find a Friend. It eschews the high brow concepts of Control and Winners Never Quit for a deeply personal outing. Gone is Control’s boisterous drumming and more rock-oriented feel, Achilles’ finds an even more melancholy and minimalist musician.
Sadly, the lack of concept has led to one of the more inconsistent records from Pedro The Lion as well. While Control was the most fully realized concept in terms of both lyrics and songwriting, this record finds the band putting both it’s best and weakest tracks simultaneously to tape. Some of the tracks, like the positively chilling “Transcontinental“, deliver some of the most painful and visceral lyrics to date, while others, like the record opener ”Bands With Managers“ is merely adequate.
Still, one of the strongest points about the new record is that unlike past efforts where morose lyrics were accompanied by equally morose music, here, the most morbid and crushing lyrics are coupled with upbeat melodies; this sharp contrast makes the lyrics even more poignant and shows a unique ability to wring completely unique emotions out of the audience.
But in the end, while there is significant growth in the arrangements of the tracks, Bazan occasionally resorts to heavy handed and awkward lyrical and musical turns. Some of the tracks are positively brilliant, like ”A Simple Plan“ and especially the brutal and beautiful ”The Poison“ which contains probably the best written and best delivered lyrics of Pedro’s near decade of output. Achilles is a challenging and progressive reimaginging, and while this record isn’t all brilliance, it’s still a powerful and memorable record and absolutely worth your time.
No matter how many years go by or many more albums are added to their catalogue, you can count on Pedro the Lion for a few things: 1) Songwriting at a level almost without peer. 2) A slight tint of spirituality and deeper thinking you can always feel but not always hear. 3) Melodies and instrumentation that can both stir rage and at the same time draw a river of tears.
Everybody knows David Bazan is the man behind Pedro’s curtain, getting his fingernails underneath the carpet of your emotions, ready to yank it out at any moment. In his latest creation, Achilles Heel, listen for what you’ve heard in prior Pedro efforts. Don’t look for any groundbreaking experimentation. Don’t look for a lot of hard driving rock like we got from 2002′s Control. Bazan might have gone back to the feel of It’s Hard to Find a Friend.But it still has the clever word play, the heartfelt storytelling and the beautiful interplay between the guitars and Bazan’s voice. It stirs up sorrowful, almost bitter taste, but leaves a little hope lingering afterwards.
This album’s menu is highlighted by "A Simple Plan," a late track on the album that’s worth the wait. It boasts a catchy bassline and nice melodic vocals. "Transcontinental" may sound like a folky rock song, and that’s all it is — if you manage to ignore more of Bazan’s brilliant storytelling. "Bands With Managers," a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of the state the modern music scene pushes the album forward right from the beginning, while "Arizona" sits as an ode to rock paper scissors. "I Do" finds Bazan still struggling with the marital issues that dominated Control, an album that Achilles doesn’t measure up to at this point. But then again, it took me a while to really figure out the power Control incubated within itself.
Pedro has already begun a U.S. tour that started in California and will swing eastward and then west again, ending in mid-July in Seattle.
Pedro The Lion’s "Achilles Heel" is the soundtrack for an evening at home after a really shitty day. The eleven songs on David Bazan’s fifth album under this singer/songwriter monicker capture all the feelings of despair, hopelessness, and melancholy bogging down my consciousness as I exhaustively swing open the front door, drop anything I’m carrying at my feet, and plod over to the sofa to heave my body face first to the cushions below. "Achilles Heel" lumbers forward at a similar pace, but for David Bazan, the comfort of a nosedive into soft cushions isn’t there. This music is the means by which the weight of those shitty days is released. It serves, then, to help ease the dejection of the listener. It’s a sigh of despondency, a pillow, and a mug of your favorite comforting warm beverage – in eleven parts.
Throughout most of "Achilles Heel" are steady beats and swaying melodies that give the album an overall optimistic, or at least uplifting, temperment. It’s not a sulking album as much as it is a comforting one. Songs like "Foregone Conclusions" and "Arizona" seek to remedy the prevailing sense of despair with almost cheerful foot-tapping melodies. Not only does the upbeat percussion make this contrast possible, but the accompanying musicians adding layers of guitar, bass, and synthesizer – plus a sprinkling of maracas as well. The mood of the album would have been far more depressing if it were a vocals and guitar solo effort. The company of others on "Achilles Heel" works wonders to transcend the speakers and raise the spirits of the listener. This is a very effective piece of music, and a fine installment of the rich Pedro The Lion discography.
David Bazan is a rain cloud that pounds on your heart strings. He has the composure of Badly Drawn Boy, and the pop capability of The Counting Crows, but the lyrics and off-base instrumentation of his songs are what make him a part of the slow-kick rock we hear at the end of films. David has an excellent lyrical method that would work very well to avant garde music videos. His vocals sound effortless, but they flow very well with the guitar and overall melody of the tracks.
A blast of nostalgia fills my giddy little head.
Pedro The Lion is indie-rock before The Hives and At The Drive-In turned people’s heads. A time when indie-rock was something so much simpler – or at least seemed simpler for people caught between the end of the old guard and the beginning of the new wave.
When Sebadoh left the building and The Strokes entered.
‘Achilles Heel’ is a fairly laid back album full of neat lyrical turns and clever melodic flourishes. Occasionally David Bazan – who is essentially Pedro The Lion – gets his groove on and makes a little noise. ‘Keep Swinging’ shimmies and shakes the distortion blues.
Bazan is a clever man. A man who sounds like Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
On one song at least he does a rather painful falsetto. It ruins an otherwise brilliant song, ‘Bands With Managers’. "Bands with managers go places," sings Bazan cheekily. Then he goes and sings in a wavering high voice that brings tears of emo to my eye.
Thankfully nothing of the sort ever happens again. It’s all summery frolics and heartbreaking melodies hanging out with Evan Dando and Jeff Tweedy sipping dandelion and burdock on the veranda.
‘Achilles Heel’ has weathered warmth. Bazan’s voice has an aching quality that could make even the most hardhearted swoon. ‘Foregone Conclusions’ could have found a perfect home on Wilco’s ‘Summerteeth’.
This album makes me want to lie down and go to sleep in the knowledge everything will be alright when I wake up in the morning. Despite the occasional spiky lyrical concerns, I feel enveloped in a comforting gentleness.
This is a simple pleasure for simpler times.
Achilles’ Heel, Pedro the Lion’s fifth album, is a hallmark for the band, a culmination of their previous work, and — upon its release — their best album to date. Breaking down the linear narratives of The Only Reason I Feel Secure and Control into broader concepts and themes that rely far less on storytelling and more on topical personal politics turns out to be a winning approach. Walking through the emotional fray of America’s suburban ennui, David Bazan and company have built a beautiful and wavering mix of indie rock and country-folk. Ester Drang keyboardist James McAlister is a shining addition to Bazan and longtime contributor T.W. Walsh, adding a syrupy keyboard undercurrent to contrast Bazan’s longing melodies and lyrics — and the guitar work reaches new levels of uncharacteristic gritty rock on the venomous "Keep Swinging" (don’t expect it for more than one track, though). With some of the best songs of the band’s career — the classic, simple, country-tinged "Foregone Conclusions" and the lush, soaring "The Fleecing," for example — Pedro the Lion cast themselves as a Neil Young for the tract homes and convenience stores, a middle-class hero for those caught in the mundane space between the McMansions and the nine-to-five grind. Bazan is a master of this stuff, delving through the routine and ordinary for every drop of melancholy and poetry. While lilting and humorless (don’t expect anything as fun as the Darkness here), these songs are like literature set to music, the indie rock counterpart to a novel like A.M. Homes’ The Safety of Objects — maybe a little tough to swallow or make it all the way through, but brilliantly rendered nonetheless.
The date is May 25th, 2004. Pedro the Lion’s new album, Achilles Heel, hits store shelves on an otherwise uneventful day. But as night falls over the Pacific Northwest, a seething mob of overzealous fans spills onto the lawn of frontman Dave Bazan’s Seattle residence. Disgruntled murmuring ensues, polluting an otherwise calm evening and grossly upsetting the neighbor’s tightly-wound Boston Terrier. All the while a menacing array of Pitchforks and flickering torches clenched in white-knuckle fists swish violently back and forth, in addition to home-made signs bearing hastily scrawled messages. “Golly Gee, No Part III,” “Pedro the Liar,” “Down With Two-Part Trilogies!”
While Bazan hardly signed a contract with fans, the singer intimated at various stages during 2002 that his next project would wrap up a trio of concept albums—the first part being 2000’s Winners Never Quit, a 21st-century mini-saga incorporating elements of the powerlust infecting America’s political landscape, the relational dynamic between brothers hinted at in the biblical account of the Prodigal Son, not to mention the unmitigated carnage of a Shakespearean tragedy. All in the span of eight tracks. Next came 2002’s Control, yet another domestic doom drama, this time focusing on marital infidelity, trust fund babies, materialism, revenge, existential dread and, as an uplifting little sidebar, corporate greed. The final chapter of Bazan’s rumored trilogy was to be the redemption, or at least resolution, the faint glow that might beat back the impending darkness long enough for listeners to enjoy a peaceable night of (unmedicated) slumber. Only it’s not.
Achilles Heel-—unmistakably concept-free—-hearkens back to Pedro’s debut LP, It’s Hard To Find A Friend, reminding us that Bazan cares nothing for punch lines, just punches. These tunes simply refuse to furnish answers, spoonfed judgments or easy Ziplock-tidy moralizing. Not while there’s enough ambiguity and frustration in this world to oil the songwriting gears for another few hundred millennia, at least.
But just because the album lacks a unifying Concept doesn’t mean that its without a strong thematic undercurrent. Namely, the contemporary male’s sexual identity crisis, pinned as he is beneath the steaming ruins of classical masculinity, choking on patriarchy’s heady fumes. In a jaunty little number set against the dawn of communism, “A Simple Plan,” one father mourns the death of his breadwinning responsibilities: “But now that it’s over, now that we’ve won / It’s back to my bedroom alone with a shotgun / To think of my family no longer compels me / With all things in common they’ll manage without me.”
In the dreamlike, monosynth-dappled “I Do,” another man ruminates on his newborn son’s delivery: “When his tiny head emerged from blood and folds of skin / I thought to myself / If he only knew, he would climb right back in.” The crestfallen timbre of Bazan’s voice and measured delivery ensures these lyrics collide with your heart at breakneck torpidity. Especially later in the song when he resignedly continues, “Now that my blushing bride has done what she was born to do / It’s time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through.” If you’re not choking back a lump in your throat at this point, chances are you might need to reboot, my dear android friend.
Bazan’s songwriting (at least in recent years) has concerned itself with the human struggle as lived out in a domestic context. What better place to capture all the joy, angst, confusion and fragility of life? The family is, after all, the emotional root which simultaneously nourishes and poisons its offspring, it is the microcosmic slice of humanity encapsulating all our communal experience. While Heel retains that domestic fascination on many levels, Bazan allows his gaze to wander, instead of hemming the potential for whimsy (yes, whimsy) behind rigid conceptual fences. Case in point, the album’s opener, “Bands With Managers,” a slow-burning dirge of a tune about touring rock stars, the disastrous potential for rolling 15-passenger vans and Bazan’s implicit trust in Pedro bandmate TW Walsh’s abilities behind the wheel.
“Foregone Conclusions” untethers Bazan’s acerbic wit in the catchiest indictment of dogmatic pestering since “Magazine” on Pedro’s last record, sporting lines such as “You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord / To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the f–k up / You thought it must be the devil trying to make you go astray / Besides it could not have been the Lord because you don’t believe he talks that way.” In the mid-tempo pop stroll, “Arizona,” Bazan details a wonderfully bizarre (and quite possibly the first) geographical love triangle, involving an acrimonious struggle between California and New Mexico, both vying for the hand of the apparently-fetching Arizona.
At the same time Bazan was kicking around the idea of putting out his own musical “Return of the Jedi,” he was also talking about the end of Pedro. If you’re going to call it quits, that’s what you do: you conclude a trilogy and go out with a sense of closure. I’d like to think that the diverse, unconcepted universe of Achilles Heel means that Pedro the Lion plans to stick around for a while, reigning as King of the Indie-Rock Jungle.
Good music is ultimately about communication. Pedro the Lion’s full labor in this respect never receives its due admiration. It’s hard enough to effectively communicate your own thoughts. What the albums of Pedro the Lion have done consistently is communicate the thoughts of fictional characters with an honesty the characters themselves would have trouble realizing. The fact that the music has always been so deliberately and carefully made has allowed its creator, Dave Bazan, to establish a nearly flawless rapport with his fans. Consequently, no learned Pedro the Lion fan will ever dismiss a new album for its superficial monotony, because that fan will know that Dave Bazan is about to say something important. It is exactly this sort of perfectly anxious and attentive audience that awaits Pedro the Lion’s newest album, Achilles Heel.
One important distinction between Achilles Heel and recent Pedro the Lion albums is the degree of collaboration. Whereas the previous album, Control, was entirely Bazan’s vision and instrumentation, Dave has found, at least for now, a musical cohort in T.W. Walsh, who shares in instrumentation, and possibly creative, duties.
Achilles Heel still maintains some of Pedro the Lion’s typical short and morbid fiction. "Discretion" is a murder story in the spirit of Pedro the Lion’s2000 release Winners Never Quit while "Transcontinental" dictates the final thoughts of a man dismembered by a train. A couple of the tales present more socially commentative pieces with wry allegories. "Arizona" is a cleverly written geographical soap opera with New Mexico portrayed as a jilted lover. "A Simple Plan" portrays a perfectly utopian, communist society where, not surprisingly, universal egalitarianism has still not solved man’s existential dread.
The soundtrack for Pedro the Lion’s storytelling has always been characteristically simple. The music has never been anything that could stand alone and was never meant to do so. In his craft, Dave has always presented a package, a complete ethos rather than careless lyrics and impersonal melodies. Bazan’s voice is, as always, unhurried, like a person telling a story slowly and clearly. What is even more striking is Bazan’s entirely unique approach to phrasing. He draws out words longer than expected. He gives sentences in atypically fractured segments. He rarely utters a refrain twice. All of these violate the classic brainwashing techniques of pop music. This is because Pedro the Lion’s songs are stalwart enough to stand up by themselves. Think about it. How popular would 50 Cent be if he only declared "urrbody in the club get tips" once and you were left to ponder the complete idiocy of that phrase for the rest of the song?
Another distinction between Achilles Heel and Control is the presence of songs that, by all appearances, are written entirely from Dave’s prospective. "Foregone Conclusions," a solemn denunciation of the selfish and inaccurate doctrines of American religion, should be played through loudspeakers all over North Dallas. "The Fleeing" is particularly telling of Dave’s frustrations in communicating thoughts effectively. Both songs are dedicated to the complication of socio-religious interaction, an unappealing reality for a man who’s just trying to tell the truth.
Much has been made of Dave Bazan’s ties to Christianity. Most of these queries have been directed towards the commercialistic implications, as if it’s irregular for any person to have a faith of some sort. Regardless, that is not why Bazan’s faith is important. I will let you in on a particularly esoteric fact of which you may not be aware: when Bazan says "fuck" on this album, an entire generation of earnest, but repressed, Christians breathe a collective sigh of relief. The press has continually made the mistaken conclusion that Dave Bazan is a paradox for being simultaneously vulgar and faithful, but the aforementioned generation knows the real story. For this selective demographic, the music of Pedro the Lion has and still is reconciling belief and experience by being honest. Dave Bazaan is not contradictory, just sincere. And he’s not a spokesman for anything except being human.
Public opinion of Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan seems to be divided into two basic camps. People are likely to see him either as a genius or a man who’s completely lost his grip on what the word “appropriate” means. I see a little of each. I see a genius, or at least a very unique man, who’s becoming ever more comfortable with expressing his own idea of appropriateness. As a result, Achilles Heel is totally uninhibited, perhaps, depending on your perspective, to a fault.
The first noteworthy aspect of Achilles Heel is that, unlike Bazan’s last two full-lengths, it’s not a concept album. In true Pedro fashion, each song tells its own mini-story, but this time they’re not pieces of a larger tale. In one way, it’s a bit refreshing, because it offers the listener a chance to simply listen to a straight-up album instead of feeling the pressure of diving into a heady piece of conceptual art. Still, a coherent storyline with each album has become one of Pedro’s identifying characteristics, and it is, at least somewhat, missed here.
Bazan’s characteristic sardonic wit shows through immediately, as his low voice labors through the opening lines of “Bands With Managers”: “Bands with managers are going places / Bands with messy hair and smooth, white faces.” Bazan also wastes no time in introducing the album’s other recurring elements. In the first song alone we see Bazan reaching for a higher vocal register than normal, the aforementioned wit and a fondness for careful descriptions of sickness, death and other such things that is perhaps more pronounced than ever. Though we only catch a glimpse in the first song, statements like “Vans with fifteen passengers are rolling over” are no less unsettling than any of the other statements made on the album.
Let’s back away for a moment and note that Bazan has always been a skillful commentator on life and the human condition. Winners Never Quit and Control are two of the most riveting and appropriately disturbing stories of depravity ever put to tape. The only reason the unpleasant descriptions on Achilles Heel seem more pronounced is that many of them appear to be largely unnecessary. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, however.
In “Keep Swinging,” we’re given the tale of a drunken man who passes out, gets conned by a cabdriver and subsequently leaves a few bodily fluids in his hotel bed. On one hand, it could serve as a stern warning of the troubles that accompany inebriation. On the other hand, it’s a tad bit more than you might want to hear. Some of Bazan’s best points have been made by his inclusion of the gory details, however. It all depends on your perspective.
Bazan’s peak of unpleasantness is found in “Transcontinental,” a bizarre first-person account from the mind of a man whose legs have been severed by a train. It’s either a fancy way of highlighting our laziness and lack of motivation or just a quirky story about severed limbs. Whatever Bazan’s purpose, and despite the song’s gruesome premise, I’m intrigued.
Most notably, however, Bazan has finally crafted an album of musical arrangements that stand more than an arm’s length apart from his other material in terms of style. Almost every song is much brighter and at least slightly more upbeat than songs on previous albums. Even “Transcontinental” is deceptively peppy; so much so, in fact, that it’s one of the album’s catchiest pieces. Sorry to make a tired observation, but it truly sounds as if the band had fun making this recording.
“Keep Swinging” is the crowning achievement on Achilles Heel. It exists in a musical realm completely separate from all of Bazan’s other work. It opens with a swaggering, liquid bassline and equally smooth drums before Bazan enters with an uncharacteristically flashy and confident melody. The real stereotype-shatterer, however, comes when the instruments drop out and the vocals explode into full harmony. This happens a few other times throughout the song and shows just how far Pedro the Lion is capable of traveling from their typical sound. If only the rest of the songs were as daring.
All things considered, will this album change anyone’s opinion of Pedro the Lion and David Bazan? Probably not. The longtime Pedro fans will undoubtedly be content with Bazan’s offbeat stories and astute observations, and the rest of the world will still think he’s just a bit odd. But, all things considered, it’s really not a bad little album.
PEDRO THE LION’S Achilles’ Heel (JT1095) is now available. Both gorgeously austere and deceptively sweet, this adroit follow-up to 2002′s politically enraged Control was recorded in Washington State at the band’s home studio where longtime David Bazan collaborator TW Walsh was joined by multi-instrumentalist James McAlister (ESTER DRANG[/B]) as the group spent a solid month working on the album’s tracks. The end result is as musically mature as it is emotionally complex, a stunning culmination of the band’s graceful song-craft and Bazan’s well-honed laconic narrative. Achilles’ Heel is thoroughly imbued with the hopeful sadness that only PEDRO THE LION can, and do deliver.
In celebration of the release David Bazan and crew will be performing at 9am (PT) on Seattle’s KEXP 90.3 FM, so you can either tune in online at KEXP or simply stream the show live through iTunes.
David Bazan is growing up. And honestly, it sounds beautiful.
Taking a more straightfoward approach to his music, the songs on Achilles Heel are made of simple melodies, but they are no less carefully crafted than previous Pedro the Lion albums.
The lyrics convey a wiser, older and somewhat more-skeptical man, relaying the various events of a life that, albeit simple, still comes with its own set of repercussions. "Make a fist and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and count to 10," he advises on "Keep Swinging." Rarely do we, as an audience, get to witness the outpourings of the seemingly simpler aspects of life such as marriage. Instead, we are usually subjected to the almost hypocritical musings of rock stars that are longing for simpler existences. But in the back of our minds, we know the words aren’t completely heartfelt because they are still making albums and touring to promote them. Just another reason why this Pedro the Lion record is so special. It’s a record for every person.
Juxtaposing personal with slightly more political views, the lyrics are accessible, and the music sounds familiar, like an old friend commiserating about the past and looking toward the future with a heavy — yet slightly optimistic — sigh.
I have always loved Pedro the Lion. From their first release [The Whole EP] on Tooth & Nail in ?°»97 to today’s not-yet-released Achilles’ Heel, Pedro has greatly advanced and become a band that will always be well before their time. Though some may find their music to be too morose and laid-back, I find it to be the most relaxing, tranquil and easy-to-listen to music in this scene. This is even more so veritable and proven in Achilles’ Heel.
The CD starts with the soothing and amazingly un-altered voice of David Bazan, slowly inspiring head-nodding in the song “Bands with Managers”. Reminiscent of the simplistic vocal nature of Thom Yorke [Radiohead], David tells a story in every song. In the following song, “Forgone Conclusions”, things pick up in tempo and a tambourine enters. The new pace greatly dictates the movement of storytelling, using “you” as the main subject of the song. My favorite song on the album, “Arizona” makes it ever-evident that David Bazan, though claiming not wanting to make another concept album, has made an album showing his emotion through amazing anecdotes. “Arizona curled up with California / then she tried to hide the whole thing from New Mexico.” This lyric greatly represents the tone of Achilles’ Heel, a 38 minute and 20 second narrative. However, despite the tranquil quality of this CD, “Keep Swinging” exposes Pedro’s dance-worthy side, with a heavy bass that is hard to avoid and harmonies that are asking to be sung along with. Finally, the CD concludes with a glum but lyrically-powerful acoustic song entitled “Poison”. Truly, this band is as diverse lyrically as they are musically.
Partnered up with TW Walsh and featuring James McCallister [Ester Drang], this mere two-person group (with drum assistance from McCallister) has achieved an amazing thing with one of the most laid-back but intuitive, pensive and stylistic albums of indie-rock and/or Pedro the Lion’s history. I highly suggest that you go out and buy it as soon as possible, for it has accomplished something that is hard to accomplish: an album that is enjoyable the whole way through. Jade Tree Records has attained yet another successful band.
The latest addition to Pedro’s vast catalog, this album is a little more pop-savvy than the last offering, "Control." Added synth bass lines and catchier guitar parts make this album accessible to the mainstream market, but the lyrics remain harsh and often gruesome, much as Pedro listeners have grown to love. This is not a concept album, but it seems like it may have some interconnecting topics. Songs like "A Simple Plan" form atmospheres of desperation in a working world gone right, while other tracks demonstrate a relationship gone terribly awry, such as "Start Without Me" and "I Do." Maybe singer/songwriter David Bazan has gone through some horrifying experiences in his day, or maybe he just likes making up stories. Either way, they come out brilliant in these songs just as they had in earlier records. Chalk another one up to expertise, Pedro the Lion strikes again.
Pedro the Lion’s Control was a masterpiece and due to its heart-wrenching lyrics and bold music, I gave it a perfect rating in 2002. Achilles Heel is the band’s follow up and sees them moving in a slightly different direction.
The music branches out a bit more than we’re used to from Pedro the Lion. There are no outright rockers like we saw on Control and there are few dirges like we fell in love with on It’s Hard to Find a Friend. Songs like "Transcontinental" and "I Do" experiment outside the normal Pedro the Lion musical boundaries with positive results. On the other hand, an incredibly well written song like "The Poison" loses its punch with a weak, lazy acoustic version.
Unlike many of Pedro’s releases, Achilles Heel does not have one overarching story that all of the songs tie into. However, most of the songs do seem like they tie into some story that is only being told in part. If singer/songwriter David Bazan seemed cynical on Control, he has definitely gone over the edge now. There are more Christian references to be found on Achilles Heel than we have seen since 1998′s It’s Hard to Find a Friend, but the songs are not necessarily faith afirming. Bazan’s lyrics wallow in doubt and biting humor.
In "Foregone Conclusions" we hear Bazan utter lines to make Christian bookstores cringe: "You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord / To hear the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the f*** up / You said it must be the devil trying to make you go astray / Besides it couldn’t have been the Lord because you don’t believe he talks that way." The sarcasm can be infectious, but it does seem overboard at times. "The Poison" is one of the darkest (and probably best) songs that David Bazan has ever written: "My old man always swore that hell would have no flame / Just a front row seat to watch your true love pack her things and drive away." Another highlight is "Transcontinental," a song about a man who loses his legs when he is run over by a train.
Achilles Heel shows a talented and depressed David Bazan. The songs are good enough to deserve repeat listens, but if those listens come too often the listener could easily find themselves a cynic of the Bazan variety. While this may be valuable at times, I have to think that in the long run it would become unbearable.
We can all look forward to a few new tracks and a chat with David Bazan and crew as PEDRO THE LION, in celebration of the release of Achilles Heel CD (JT1095), will be performing Tuesday, May 25 at 9am (PT) on Seattle’s KEXP 90.3 FM. KEXP began humbly enough as a tiny 10-watt station back in 1972, since then they have grown into an innovative force in the Seattle community, a true anomaly as the station’s DJs help program their own sets, play requests, and rail against all that commercial radio has come to represent in the last few years. You can tune in online at or simply stream the show live through iTunes.
After performing on-air PEDRO THE LION will be taking a few days off before heading out on a massive coast-to-coast tour with San Francisco based popster , who himself just released a new album entitled Cellar Door on Seattle label .
PEDRO THE LION TOUR DATES
Please consult the Jade Tree tour page for updates.
All dates w/ John Vanderslice except 6/24 and 7/3
2: San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th St)
3: San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th St)
4: Pomona, CA @ Glass House (200 W 2nd St)
5: San Diego, CA @ The Casbah (2501 Kettner Blvd)
6: Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour (9081 Santa Monica Blvd)
7: Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour (9081 Santa Monica Blvd)
8: Phoenix, AZ @ Old Brickhouse (1 E Jackson St)
10: Austin, TX @ Emo’s Outside Stage – Early Show (603 Red River)
11: Dallas, TX @ Tree’s (2709 Elm St)
12: Little Rock, AR @ Vino’s (923 W 7th St)
13: Nashville, TN @ Exit In (2208 Elliston Place)
14: Atlanta, GA @ Echo Lounge (551 Flat Shoals Ave SE)
15: West Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern (122 State St)
16: Chalottesville, VA @ Star Hill Music Hall (709 W Main St)
17: Washington, DC @ Black Cat (1811 14th St NW)
18: Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon – Early Show (223 N Water St)
19: Philadelphia, PA @ The Philadelphia Ethical Society (1906 S Rittenhouse Square)
20: Brooklyn, NY @ Northsix (66 North 6th St)
21: New York, NY @ Knitting Factory (74 Leonard St)
22: Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Downstairs (480 Massachussets Ave)
24: Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen St W)
25: Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place (47 E Mohawk St)
26: Cleveland, OH @ The Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd)
27: Detroit, MI @ The Magic Stick (4120 Woodward Ave)
28: Chicago, IL @ The Abbey Pub (3420 W Grace)
29: Chicago, IL @ The Abbey Pub (3420 W Grace)
30: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue – Early Show (29 N 7th St)
1: Milwaukee, WI @ Wehr Hall (1047 N Broadway)
2: Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s Oasis (330 E Washington)
3; Bushnell, IL @ Cornerstone Fetival (23325 N Cornerstone Rd)
5: Omaha, NE @ Sokol Underground (2234 S 13th St)
6: Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre (3317 E Colfax Ave)
7: Salt Lake City, UT @ In The Venue (579 W 200 S)
8: Boise, ID @ Big Easy (416 S 9th St)
9: Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom (1332 W Burnside Ave) w/ Audio Learning Center, Dolorean
10: Seattle, WA @ Showbox (1426 First Ave)
Pedro the Lion’s solid indie rock foundation is brilliantly displayed on the band’s newest Jade Tree effort “The Achilles Heel.” Fans of the band’s previous best piece of work “Control” will be extremely impressed at how well the band has kept up with their authentic sound, and how they have progressed and taken their indie rock to a whole new level.
“The Achilles Heel” is filled with eleven tracks of elegant indie rock elements and folkish twists all led by the brilliant leading vocals of the band’s mastermind David Bazan. Bazan’s storytelling methods in his music are best conveyed with “The Achilles Heel” as opposed to previous works such as “Control” and “It’s Hard to Find a Friend” among other Pedro releases.
While listening to the album it seems to have a very simple sound, but when the lyrical content is evaluated, the material is more complex than one might have thought. Leave it up to Bazan to bring complexity to the material that he turns not only into brilliant ideas and lyrics, but into the entire length of “The Achilles Heel” as well.
The first standout track on “The Achilles Heel” is “Foregone Conclusions,” a witty, catchy acoustically driven track driven by storytelling simplicity. The song “Transcontinental” is also a brilliant Pedro track, one of the best Bazan has ever created.
“The Achilles Heel” is a masterpiece for indie rock music. And although it has its emotional ups and downs the record is far from the term “emo.” The album grabs at the emotional aspects of fans while keeping the indie elements and acoustic sound on overdrive, allowing everything to flow perfectly together. Pedro the Lion have created the record of their career with “The Achilles Heel.”
Achilles Heel is Pedro The Lion’s redeeming follow up to 2002’s not-that-impressive Control. The success of Winners Never Quit, the critically acclaimed concept album about a morally corrupt politician apparently went straight to David Bazan’s ego, as he developed a do no evil pretense, and fucked up royally with Control. The main problem with Control is that good lyrics alone can’t make an album work, and Bazan neglected to pay attention to the music. I would say that his intentions were purely cathartic with Control, but that would mean that the lyrics were the equivalent of vocal masturbation, or some equally annoying form of self indulgence.
But now that the crippling pretension of Control is an acknowledged mistake of the past, Pedro The Lion has (as of May 25th) released the album of their career. At the surface, Achilles Heel is a set of simply structured lofi rock tunes, not too long, but not too short, with the music in the back and folky vocals in the front. But a closer look will reveal Steve Bazan’s incredible talent as a lyricist. Each song is either a short story, an expounded idea, or a few sentences elaborating on a random emotion in an unsuperficial way.
Bazan has a unique style of painting lyrical picture after picture of situations and characters, and the best example of his ability, I think, is “Discretion.” The song starts out with some dreamy, reverberated guitar, and Bazan sets the scene for the story of a farmer whose son paid a hit man to kill him. The guitar picks up, and the story continues to explain that the farmer found his dead son at the same time that the killer was driving and thinking about his “recent deviation from the plan.” But it’s not revealed until the closing seconds of the song that the hit man decided to kill the “asshole son,” and spared the farmer’s life.
However monotonous a lot of other songwriters may be in their storytelling, Bazan is far from out of material to write about. He can write very elaborately, like in “Discretion,” or simply, with a “hey, don’t be a dick” message. The slowcore jam rock of “Keep Swinging,” demonstrates this. Some dirty, overdriven, lo-fi blues guitar (damn, that’s adjectivey!) sets the melody for a story about how people in irrational states of mind can cause problems for other people by throwing self-deprecating temper tantrums. It’s about what I assume is a personal friend of Bazan’s who gets really drunk in Chicago, trashes a hotel room in a fit of self-directed drunken rage, and leaves the mess for the maid to clean.
Bazan meticulously insinuates the thoughts and actions of his songs’ characters very slowly until things are finally clear in the closing words of each song. It’s almost as if he’s inviting you into his mind for a few minutes at a time to catch a glimpse of the sometimes fictional, sometimes factual characters in Pedro The Lion’s songs, each of which act out the stories and fill in the blanks as more details are subtly unveiled.
Although Steve Bazan is deeply religious, he refrains from preaching and doesn’t come across with the standard “holier than thou” attitude that makes most Christian bands suck — especially DC Talk, or, to the other extreme, Creed. He really surprised me with the lines “you were too busy steering the conversation toward the lord/ To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the fuck up” in “Foregone Conclusions.” The entire album is full of subtle messages of common courtesy and other attacks on disrespectful behavior, which, as an American tired of being run off the road by SUVs and tailgated by white, suburban homies in pseudo race cars, probably made Achilles Heel appeal to me even more than it would have if I didn’t live in a gimme gimme gimme country. (Sweet Canada, if only I could afford to move to one of your deciduous cites.)
The music may not be that technical or exceptionally original, but Pedro The Lion has never been anything but an indie rock band with a stripped-down approach. I’m not saying that it’s bad music; it works very well with what they’re doing.
Since Steve Bazan wrote almost everything in the past, he kind of was the band. This was not the case with Achilles Heel. I think the reason for his collaboration with other musicians was because he took the disappointment of his previous effort as a wake up call to stop take taking himself so seriously, lighten up a little, and have a little fun with some friends. The opening track of an earlier effort (which is also worth checking out), The Only Reason I Feel Secure, is called “Criticism As Inspiration.” I think that David Bazan has no problem taking his own advice, and it shows on this excellent album.