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June 10, 2003

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David Bazan, who is indie rock band Pedro the Lion's sole constant member, has always been pretty good with the big issues: the complexities of marriage, the lure of sex, the compulsions of religion, that sort of stuff. Bazan's Christianity clearly informs his writing, and his moralism can come off as a bit reductive, but it also gives his work a principled baseline, a position from which to speak.

Bazan's also quite good at blending these themes into coherent narratives. "Control," his 2002 album, was a stunner -- deft, complicated and brutal like a Raymond Carver story. A concept album about faith and the damage we do to it and each other, this recording's highlight was "Rapture," one of the most direct and haunting songs about infidelity indie rock has ever produced. Balancing guilt ("this is how we multiply/pity that it's not my wife") and triumphant rock, "Rapture" is a masterstroke, the ultimate Bazan song on the ultimate Bazan album. It's hard to top.

So he changed up a bit. "Achilles Heel" seems to ditch the overt concept-album formula and varies the songwriting a bit, from stately mope to power pop and straightforward rock.

As much as it's about anything, "Heel" seems to address ambition for its own sake. Over a seething dirge, "Bands With Managers" critiques the brass ring, while "Foregone Conclusions" uses a sweet, strummy hook to knock a friend who has a warped idea of faith.

Bazan's still a little squirrely about marriage. "I Do" weds absolutely savage lyrics about the burden of children -- "Now that my blushing bride has done what she was born to do/it's time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through" -- to the sort of casual indie melody that bands such as Sebadoh turned into make-out music for nerds. Then there's that line from "The Poison," "My old man always swore that hell would have no flame/just a front-row seat to watch your true love pack her things and drive away." Of course, if the old man is the same guy from "I Do," can you blame her for leaving? Maybe that's what makes Pedro the Lion resonate. His music and themes hit its demographic exactly where they live.

Austin 360

Joe Gross