Pedro the Lion [I]Control[/I] Review

Pedro The Lion’s music tends to be bludgeoningly beautiful, strikingly depressing, and ultimately rewarding: There’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s worth exploring anyway. As on its outstanding predecessor, 2000′s Winners Never Quit, a loose story threads through the band’s third full-length album Control. It’s the unhappy tale of a loveless marriage, countless infidelities, hatred both open and hidden, crass materialism, murder, and, worst of all, a lack of hope. In the hands of a lesser songwriter than David Bazan (Pedro The Lion’s sole permanent member), those subjects would be nearly impossible to handle with any sort of delicacy, but by never succumbing to false optimism, he makes them starkly believable. In the world of Control, half-empty or half-full doesn’t matter, because the glass is stained by an unfamiliar shade of lipstick and emblazoned with a corporate logo. Bazan’s Christianity gets a lot of press, but his worldview is far from a blindered, unquestioning "God is great." "Rapture" details a motel-room encounter in which the word "Jesus" is used in a moment of adulterous bliss, while "Penetration" and "Indian Summer" use sexual metaphors for cutthroat greed: The latter includes the memorably chilling line, "All the experts say you ought to start them young / That way they’ll naturally love the taste of corporate come." Even the priest who delivers the murdered husband’s eulogy (on "Priests And Paramedics") can’t bring any false hope to Control, telling the assemblage, "You’re all gonna die / We’re all gonna die." Musically, Control stands as Bazan’s strongest work yet. Originally recorded early last year, the self-produced album was scrapped and re-recorded at his home studio. By necessity, the music can’t obscure or obstruct the vocals, and Bazan does a fine job of balancing his resigned voice with alternately bleak and crashing, Bedhead-style rock. He matches Control’s dispirited tone with music that sounds alternately resigned and angry, hopeless and charging. In a world of bands parlaying false angst into hit records, it’s refreshing to hear one that’s unafraid of real, adult emotions: Control may be dark and sometimes brutal, but it’s ultimately life-affirming and difficult to forget. That’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

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