As early as its 1997 debut EP, singer-songwriter David Bazan’s indie band Pedro the Lion demonstrated uncanny maturity in its wit, insight and musical craftsmanship. Melodic, brooding, layered character studies of introspection and situational ethics poured over minimalist guitar strumming and barren percussion. Just when his effective slow, minimalist style was in danger of becoming boring, Bazan later wisely diversified into harder rock.
Issued two years ago, the rockin’ Control was musically and lyrically blatant and vulgar, with the equivalent narrative content of one traditional Pedro song stretched thinly across an entire concept album. While nonetheless a fine record, it forgot the subversive, more unsettling subtlety found in earlier releases. With Achilles Heel , PTL has worked out the kinks and delivers its most intriguing work yet. Bazan’s vulnerable vocals and richly metaphorical songwriting are in full force with an unprecedented range of tempo. The summery guitars and mellotron in “Transcontinental” are seductively inviting, but closer listens reveal that the song is about someone getting mangled under the wheels of a train. That eerie experience of discovery is similar to that of the album overall: simple on the surface, it lures the listener into a complex underworld to confront difficult truths.