Of all the bands I’ve liked at one point, I don’t think I’ve received quite as much flack for any as much as I have Pedro the Lion. I’ve never quite ‘gotten’ the abhorrence some have felt for the band, as vocalist and lyricist David Bazan seems to teeter just far enough between both gratingly annoying and remarkably above par to keep himself off the radar. Regardless, people just hear the term "Christian Rock" and they duck and cover. The term conjures up images of aging men relating to "real teens" at alternative churches, possibly singing verses about ‘natural’ birth control. This grouping has always seemed to do more harm than good for rock item Pedro the Lion, putting off listeners before they have even bothered to listen.
Pedro the Lion is the moniker donned by Seattle native David Bazan, who has steadily used it to put out albums since the arrival of It’s Hard to Find a Friend in 1998. Backed by Casey Foubert (who supplies bass, percussion and keyboards), the outfit has released their fifth album, entitled Achilles Heel, this month.
I should clear this up right off the bat. Yes, Bazan is Christian. No, he does not use his music as a vehicle to preach Christian ideals to his listeners. Instead, Bazan analyzes different issues and uses situations to ponder, question, challenge, and affirm his basic faith, all which he manages gracefully, and never in an alienating manner. His wavering drawl, sparse arrangements and mellow rock only serve to his purpose. Having been a fan of the group’s previous efforts, I was eager to hear Achilles Heel.
This time around, James McAlister supplies the keyboards and T.W Walsh the bass. The first track off the album, "Bands with Managers" starts off the album smoothly and find’s Bazan’s voice accelerating to reach beautiful highs and decelerating back to his trademark drone. The explosive "Foregone Conclusions" is surprisingly charismatic. "The Fleecing" is lulling and dreamy. Bazan’s vocals are longing and match perfectly to the brand of music that is supplied. "Keep Swinging" sets itself apart from the rest of the songs through it’s jerky rhythms and vocals that escalate to various heights, but the album returns to it’s previous course afterward. Somber and careening, "A Simple Plan" is a standout track. The wavering verses and pacing drums of "Transcontinental" make the song a welcome turn. Though the band has noticeably expanded their sound, some of the less distinguishable tracks feel like retreads of previous ones. The band picks up the pace here and then slows down there, and then repeats the process a couple more times, and despite this, none of the material is aversive enough for it to be considered exceedingly detrimental to the overall quality of the album.
Achilles Heel will be a relief to fans who were becoming wary of Bazan’s concept albums and in need of a broader range of topics as well as a more explorative sound. Bazan is a talented and warming songwriter, but still has yet to reach his fullest potential. Achilles Heel is not a disappointment, but a satisfying listen- at least until something better comes along.