phoenix

Pedro the Lion

 
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Polyvinyl • 2019

Polyvinyl • 2019

David Bazan formed Pedro the Lion in 1995. Initially signed to Christian label Tooth & Nail Records, Pedro the Lion’s first few faith-based releases supported a religious ideology. The son of a music pastor, Bazan wrote congenial prayers and modern-day hymns, serving as a sort of indie alternative to the saccharine-filled Contemporary Christian Music of the late ‘90’s. However, growing tired of the association and skeptical in his own faith, Pedro the Lion’s latter releases challenged Christianity to a blistering degree, until Bazan gave up the moniker altogether in 2006.

The following decade found Bazan pursuing a career under his own name, with his first release  Curse Your Branches debuting in 2009. Dubbed a “breakup album” with organized religion, the album pitted Bazan against God. In the album’s closing song, “In Stitches,” Bazan says:

When Job asked you the question,
You responded, "Who are you
To challenge your creator?"
Well, if that one part is true,
It makes you sound defensive,
Like you had not thought it through
Enough to have an answer,
Or you might have bit off
More than you could chew.

With his biting, confessional lyrics that questioned religion, relationships, and politics, Bazan became a sort-of secular minister for those thirty-somethings that had lost their own faith - products of a superchurch bled dry.

Bazan continued releasing solo albums and playing living room shows, trading his 15-passenger van in for a sedan, with guitar sitting shotgun and pedalboard perched in the backseat. He released four more albums over the next decade, each one more provocative than the last.

However in 2017, Bazan felt an itch to get the band back together. In a recent interview with NPR, Bazan confessed, “I was looking for a way to be in a band again... One thing lead to another, and it became clear that the way to do that was to revive the band name Pedro the Lion and once I made that decision everything kind of fell into place and it felt really right.” After playing a string of reunion shows, Bazan recruited Erik Walters and Sean Lean to round out the lineup and entered the studio. Signing a contract with Polyvinyl, Pedro the Lion plan to release five albums over the next five years, each record focusing on a town in which Bazan resided.

The first release places Bazan in the city of his childhood, Phoenix, Arizona. Most of Bazan’s recordings are considered slowcore - bleak lyrics driven by downbeat melodies and slower tempos. While still maintaining that aesthetic, Phoenix also relishes in the jovial innocence of youth.

Behind a synthesizer in the album’s instrumental opening “Sunrise,” Bazan layers semi-distorted notes that transport the listener to a hazy morning waking up to the desert sun. The album quickly transitions into “Yellow Bike,” and with a simple guitar strum Bazan sings about the freedom of his first bicycle ride, never wanting to return home once astride that titular vehicle. In the slower-tempoed “Circle K,” we listen to Bazan lament about saving his allowance for a Santa Cruz skateboard, only to blow it all at the local convenience store.

Standout track “Quietest Friend” features a thumping guitar, drum, and bass melody while Bazan recalls teasing a friend with his classmates in the cafeteria. It’s classic Pedro the Lion storytelling, but instead of spouses and co-workers, Bazan establishes fifth graders as the chorus in this tragedy. However, the resounding theme of Pedro the Lion remains consistent as Bazan sings, “I traded my own wisdom for a jury of my peers.” Even in his youth, Bazan succumbs to the falsehoods of humankind.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this concept album is that Bazan is wholly committed to telling the story of his youth in all its embarrassingly simple pains, all the while singing with the same ferocity he has utilized in the more complex, mature themes of his earlier work. Bazan is no stranger to sincerity, and that straightforwardness is exactly what makes this record click.

Bazan revisits lyrics from Curse Your Branches in closing track “Leaving the Valley.” In the last verse of the song, Bazan asks, “If I swung my tassel to the left side of my cap, after graduation, will there be no going back?” In “Hard to Be,” the opening track of Curse Your Branches, Bazan had declared it as a matter of fact - he’d swung the tassel as an act of defiance, a rejection of his innocent youth. Perhaps in revisiting this pivotal moment, Bazan is telling us that regardless of his return to Pedro the Lion, he’s still defiant, still searching, still questioning. And we’re along on the journey with him for four more albums. Hold on tight.

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