David Bazan has returned with Achilles Heel, his fifth CD as Pedro the Lion, and it’s another intimate troubadour album. It’s a little less intense than his last effort, Control, but perhaps his best release to date. Bazan and his Pedro the Lion moniker have carved out a following in the indie rock singer/songwriter section using confessional lyrics and a folk rock feel, and Achilles Heel is more of the same, but better.
There are 11 tracks about life and death, and love and loss built upon gentle guitar strumming, and Bazan’s vocal straining. Achilles Heel opens with the song “Bands with Managers” bringing brooding keyboards, modest guitars and rock solid drumming. Bazan sings in his rather uninterested tones: “Bands with managers are going placesâ€¦ vans with 15 passengers are rolling over.” “Bands with Managers” is a somber track about coming to your final destination, and that low-key mood continues throughout the album, with a few well-placed sparks of aggression and fits of frustration thrown in.
The second track, “Forgone Conclusions,” starts up a little bit peppier, with a nice thrust from the full compliment of jangly guitars, bass and drums popping right up. The lyrics touch on the religious a bit – which Pedro the Lion is loved and lamented for at this point – but the songs on this album do not seem focused on a particular religious subject or any concept, for that matter. The songs stay broad enough to touch on many nerves, which is the strength of Achilles Heel. It touches on the giddy and the hopeless without falling too deep into either, and comes out as Pedro the Lion’s most even-keel and successful album to date.
Songs vary from a slightly funky â€˜60s feel, like “Keep Swinging,” to an uptempo electronic-based dancer, like “A Simple Plan," to a nice alt-country slow-rocker like “The Poison.” Subjects range from horrible to exultant, and the stutter stops in between are what makes them worthwhile. Bazan knows that the horrible and exultant work perfectly well together, and have for centuries, so he doesn’t try to separate them, just harness the good and evil in every situation.
Although Bazan’s voice strains, the songs on Achilles Heel always seem in the right place, shifting perfectly to let his stories work up their steam and then play themselves out in a soft, or abrupt, denouement. Bazan’s lyrics, like “I can’t sing it like I think it, and I can’t think it like I feel itâ€¦ who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble,” and so many more, are bittersweet and off-centerly appropriate, as usual.
With backing from TW Walsh and James McAlister of Ester Drang, Bazan has made a wonderfully accessible, but still introverted in a Pedro style, album that moves both the synapses and the hips.