Lion Roars Gently On Luminous `Achilles Heel’

PEDRO THE LION: PEDRO THE LION’S ACHILLES HEEL (JADE TREE) B+

It could be sour grapes when David Bazan sings about “Bands With Managers” (“Bands with messy hair and smooth white faces”) on the opening track of Pedro the Lion’s latest album. After all, Bazan’s primarily one-man band (TW Walsh currently is the other full-time member) is a darling of the indie underworld but is relatively unknown outside that locale.

But the rest of “Achilles Heel” suggests Bazan has a lot more on his mind than who’s turning up on “TRL.” “Achilles Heel” may not make Pedro the Lion a household name – that’s hardly its point. But the disc establishes Bazan as a premier songwriter. It also will remind listeners that some “alternative” bands once provided an actual alternative to the status quo.

Bazan has the gift of making the mundane meaningful. When he envisions Western states as quarreling lovers in “Arizona,” it’s both strange and funny. By the time he explains rock-paper-scissors at song’s end, he sounds like he’s giving you the secret of life.

The Lion’s music may have some of the lazy qualities of Pavement’s – seemingly offhand musical comments coalescing into a powerful whole. But Bazan’s humanity far outstrips that of the notoriously chilly Pavement; try to imagine Stephen Malkmus encouraging a depressed friend to “Keep Swinging” after a drunken evening ends in tears and soiled pants.

Bazan casts his tales in luminous melodies with understated backing. You’ll be singing along before you even notice the lyrics concern self-amputation and arguments about the Almighty.

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