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A review of...
Phoenix by Pedro The Lion
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David Bazan has been in the business for quite some time. But this is the first album in 15 years that the musician felt warranted the full Pedro The Lion moniker, in part thanks to Bazan going back to his original process of meticulously arranging the bass, drums and guitar, before forming a band to bring the music to life. In this case the band is Bazan on bass / vocals, Erik Walters on guitar / backing vocals and Sean Lane on drums. Fittingly, as Pedro The Lion goes back to basics, the resulting album is partly an ode to "going back", or at least circling back to personal roots, Phoenix, AZ being Bazan's hometown.
Phoenix opens with a short piece of music, played on a synthesizer which sounds like an eerie soundtrack to a kids sci-fi TV show from the 1970s. It sounds nothing like anything else on this album, but nonetheless is an intriguing introduction. That bit of wonky ambience bleeds into "Yellow Bike", the first "proper song" on the album, and one which sets the tone fully for an album of bleeding heart, straight up rock music. The music is simple, but where it could be bland in lesser hands, Bazan makes sure that the melodies are strong and the lyrics are thoroughly evocative. He spins a yarn with a particular raw openness and poetical flair and it's easy to lump him with songwriters like Bruce Springsteen or Craig Finn from The Hold Steady. There are two songs which stick out for being poppier / rockier than the rest in "Clean Up" and "My Phoenix" respectively, but these are certainly exceptions to the general rule of Phoenix: keep it sad. The majority of the album chugs along at a lackadaisical pace, the only thing that denotes anger is when the guitars get slightly louder or distorted, generally though it's a pared back and restrained performance from Bazan and his band-mates.
Highlights include the exquisite "Piano Bench", a synth and guitar ballad which plays like a short story as told by Elvis Costello. An all-too-brief side-step in which Bazan set's the scene beautifully and gradually ascends into something almost gospel, which neatly interweaves with the religious imagery of the words.
Although Phoenix harks back to memories of the past, hometown nostalgia and moving on, this album is actually more of a (slightly) tortured tour of the world according to David Bazan. If you're up for that, then hop on board.