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April 15, 2002

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There are certain albums in which a band really seems to hit its stride, suddenly launching itself to the upper echelon of quality music-making that their previous work only barely hinted at. It was The Moon and Antarctica for Modest Mouse, OK Computer for Radiohead, Moon Pix for Cat Power, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for Neutral Milk Hotel. For Pedro the Lion, it's Control.

Control isn't a radical departure for PTL in terms of style—the band's basic winning song structures and themes remain intact—but of maturity. Clearly, frontman David Bazan has grown wiser between the previous album and now, as well as improved his skills as a songwriter. Like Winners Never Quit, the ten tracks of Control follow a cohesive narrative with shifting points of view of the different characters, weaving a tale that ends in tragedy. But in the many places that the former came up short, Control succeeds gloriously.

With improved guitar and drum playing, the addition of keyboards, and better production values in general, the songs sound much fuller, and most tracks tend to rock harder than anything they've done before, although there's still a song or two that border on slow-core. More impressive, however, is that the music is essential to lyrics and the turns of the story rather than being incidental or heavy-handed.

The basic plot of the laid-off corporate employee is less important than the incredible amount of texture given to the story and emotions. Listen closely from beginning to end, and you'll be immersed in one of the most convincing tales of despair to ever be recorded on a 40-minute album, culminating in the climactic tragedy of track 9, "Priests and Paramedics." By the time track 10 mourns, "Most everything turns to shit / Rejoice," you'll buy into it completely. If I haven't drilled it in yet: Control is essential. This is the album deserving of the ridiculous hype surrounding that last Trail of Dead.

Tape Fuzz

Paul Lee