Review : Pedro the Lion - Achilles Heel
SputnikmusicLooking back on it, Pedro The Lion's Achilles Heel is a fascinating look at the evolution of David Bazan – not only as a musician but also as a living, breathing organism on this earth. It's fitting that this was the last album released under the Pedro moniker as the former youth group-gone-indie sound of his previous work had pretty much disappeared at this point. Sure, Bazan always had his doubts, they were what made him “him” you could say, but Achilles Heel always seemed like more of an affirmation to rebuke his own wandering soul than a cry of praise for those in doubt. His chastising of his fellow practitioners had gone from the back to basics hesitation of “The Secret of the Easy Yoke” to such biting lines as “...You were to busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the *** up,” in “Foregone Conclusions”. Even his most steadfast moments of faith on Achilles Heel are consumed by uncertainty. Despite the comforting melody of the chorus of “The Fleecing”, his exasperated release of “...And I can't think it like I feel it and I don't feel a thing” makes it seem as though the only person he's trying to convince is his self. To this day Bazan is his own one man game of tug of war, but Achilles Heel is the sound of two competing ideologies – the tradition that you know versus the truth you feel – both staking claims to the man at the other's expense, a messy internal dialogue that lead us to the hauntingly intimate schism of Curse Your Branches.
That's not to say that all of Achilles Heel is a drawn out passion play. The album also does its best to expound on the darker elements of previous Pedro the Lion outings such as Winners Never Quit's morose family tale with the “Discretion” continuing on deeper into the realm of death and red handed family politics. Tracks like “The Poison” also delve into Bazan's own follies, in this case alcoholism. Bazan's never shied away from presenting himself as nothing more than a broken man stumbling through life despite his best efforts to hinder himself, and “The Poison” is that “first step” song of admittance. It all comes together to create a vivid document of the man. Driven by his own doubts and confusions, Achilles Heel is David Bazan trying to sort himself out in the only way he knows how: writing damn good songs....full text
PitchforkMan, I hate when an album doesn't match up to the review I had planned for it. Months ago, I'd artfully conceived a righteous corrective of all the bum raps David Bazan has received over the years, both from this esteemed institution and others. Valiantly, I'd position myself between the mournful singer/songwriter and the sharp arrows of our vicious kind, praising him as one of the finest modern practitioners of the lost concept album arts, while simultaneously mocking the IndieWorld reflex to immediately disparage anyone who dares discuss something so bourgeois as religion. Oh, the gleeful self-satisfaction that would be had!
Then I heard the album. No glee.
For starters, Achilles Heel finds Bazan taking a respite from the song cycles that have graced his last two fine efforts, Winners Never Quit and Control. And while the Lion certainly has a right to an intermission from his musical Decalogue, losing the narrative push sucks the heart out of these songs, leaving a mope-rock shell that's less than filling. Only the murder-tale of "Discretion" harks back to his previous style-- a short-story remnant of Bazan's minstrel talent, its bright light is obstructed by heavy-handed stand-alone songs about unhappiness in a socialist utopia, state infidelity, and bands dying in tour vans.
And then, there's the Jesus. While Sufjan Stevens has done wonders for hypnotizing indie folk into singing along with Sunday School lesson plans, Bazan continues to be the face on the scene dartboard for people's transposed aggression against the likes of Jerry Falwell. With hands pressed firmly over ears at the mere mention of the J or G words, most of these non-conformist conformists miss the context of Pedro's deity name-dropping, which is often as critical of organized religion (and better informed) as any of the Lion-haters claim to be. To his credit, Bazan never sounds like the kind of Christian robotically following clerical orders, but like a man looking for something, anything in which to find solace from an oppressively bleak world....full text
CokemachineglowAchilles Heel is Pedro The Lion’s redeeming follow up to 2002’s not-that-impressive Control. The success of Winners Never Quit, the critically acclaimed concept album about a morally corrupt politician apparently went straight to David Bazan’s ego, as he developed a do no evil pretense, and fucked up royally with Control. The main problem with Control is that good lyrics alone can’t make an album work, and Bazan neglected to pay attention to the music. I would say that his intentions were purely cathartic with Control, but that would mean that the lyrics were the equivalent of vocal masturbation, or some equally annoying form of self indulgence.
But now that the crippling pretension of Control is an acknowledged mistake of the past, Pedro The Lion has (as of May 25th) released the album of their career. At the surface, Achilles Heel is a set of simply structured lofi rock tunes, not too long, but not too short, with the music in the back and folky vocals in the front. But a closer look will reveal Steve Bazan’s incredible talent as a lyricist. Each song is either a short story, an expounded idea, or a few sentences elaborating on a random emotion in an unsuperficial way.
Bazan has a unique style of painting lyrical picture after picture of situations and characters, and the best example of his ability, I think, is “Discretion.” The song starts out with some dreamy, reverberated guitar, and Bazan sets the scene for the story of a farmer whose son paid a hit man to kill him. The guitar picks up, and the story continues to explain that the farmer found his dead son at the same time that the killer was driving and thinking about his “recent deviation from the plan.” But it’s not revealed until the closing seconds of the song that the hit man decided to kill the “asshole son,” and spared the farmer’s life.
However monotonous a lot of other songwriters may be in their storytelling, Bazan is far from out of material to write about. He can write very elaborately, like in “Discretion,” or simply, with a “hey, don’t be a dick” message. The slowcore jam rock of “Keep Swinging,” demonstrates this. Some dirty, overdriven, lo-fi blues guitar (damn, that’s adjectivey!) sets the melody for a story about how people in irrational states of mind can cause problems for other people by throwing self-deprecating temper tantrums. It’s about what I assume is a personal friend of Bazan’s who gets really drunk in Chicago, trashes a hotel room in a fit of self-directed drunken rage, and leaves the mess for the maid to clean.
Bazan meticulously insinuates the thoughts and actions of his songs’ characters very slowly until things are finally clear in the closing words of each song. It’s almost as if he’s inviting you into his mind for a few minutes at a time to catch a glimpse of the sometimes fictional, sometimes factual characters in Pedro The Lion’s songs, each of which act out the stories and fill in the blanks as more details are subtly unveiled....full text
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